On Thursday afternoon the court adjourned bankruptcy proceedings against John Gordon Hewitt and Velma Powery-Hewitt, delaying the hearing until Sept. 12, while the sum at issue has grown to $215,666.
The amount claimed by the court is an increase of nearly 48 percent from an original claim for court costs of $138,666, and, according to Ms. Powery-Hewitt, comes as a result of “taxation” on the initial sum.
“They are calling it interest,” she said, describing the court-mandated addition of $77,000. The increase could not be confirmed with Clerk of Courts Tabitha Philander, who placed the original bankruptcy notice in Monday’s Government Gazette.
Mistakenly dated “Tuesday, July 18,” Ms. Philander’s “Matter of a Bankruptcy Petition” set “a meeting of the creditors … pursuant to the Bankruptcy Law at the Court’s Office” in George Town on July 21 at 3 p.m.
During the meeting, however, the court postponed the hearing, citing a point of law in which gazetted proceedings must be advertised at least 10 days before any meeting.
The delay, according to Ms. Powery-Hewitt, gave the West Bay couple “some breathing space” as they sought help for the payments, which threaten to leave the couple without financial resources.
“We couldn’t do anything” at the hearing, she said, “because they had not filed the notice in enough time.”
Ms. Philander, she said, had submitted the “Matter of a Bankruptcy Petition” in time, but the Gazette publication date came too late to meet the 10-day stipulation. “So right now nothing is happening,” Ms. Powery-Hewitt said. “We have a little space and we keep holding our breath, hoping something will work out.”
She said the additional $77,000 fee had not come as a surprise, as the couple had faced a similar charge in a previous, related lawsuit.
The original court costs of nearly $140,000 came as a result of a June 2013 constitutional challenge to the May 22 election of West Bay MLA – and later Minister of Education, Employment and Gender Affairs – Tara Rivers.
In his suit, Mr. Hewitt contested the eligibility of Ms. Rivers to stand for election, citing violations of both residency and loyalty requirements in the Cayman Islands Constitution.
After a three-day trial in the Grand Court, Chief Justice Anthony Smellie vindicated Ms. Rivers, but did not assess court costs at the time, suggesting Mr. Hewitt’s constitutional challenge had been in the public interest.
Subsequently, the couple approached the Court of Appeals, despite a constitutional prohibition on the move. The court declined to hear the case, but assessed the Hewitts $16,000 in costs.
“I get it that we have a ‘loser pays’ system,” Ms. Powery-Hewitt said, “and if it had been a personal matter, I could see it, but it was a constitutional matter. So the appeal cost $16,000, and then the Clerk of Courts put another $10,000 on that as interest.”
Despite the daunting $26,000 total, she said, “we paid it. We cleared that debt. Now we are just praying for some kind of reprieve.”
Mr. Hewitt has said his only asset is his West Bay home, which may be seized by creditors. “We continue to do normal things,” Ms. Powery-Hewitt said. “We try to keep life as normal as possible, and we don’t have any excesses.”
Rivers’ attorney, Hampson and Company’s Paul Keeble, declined to comment, saying the case remained before the bankruptcy court.