Bankrupt Hewitt: UDP reneged on promise to pay for Rivers challenge

Education Minister Tara Rivers leaves court on Aug. 9, 2013, surrounded by well-wishers after Chief Justice Anthony Smellie ruled she was qualified to run for office and to be elected as an MLA following a challenge to her eligibility by John Gordon Hewitt. – Photo: Chris Court

After being declared officially bankrupt, 80-year-old John Gordon Hewitt told a court Tuesday he had been “thrown under the bus” by the United Democratic Party.

Mr. Hewitt, who brought a constitutional challenge to the 2013 election of Education Minister Tara Rivers, claimed the party had chosen him as a “token plaintiff” and promised to fund the action.

When the legal bills came in, however, he claims the UDP and its financial backers went back on that promise and left him with the tab.

Mr. Hewitt, whose wife Velma Powery-Hewitt was a UDP candidate in West Bay at the election, was unable to fulfill a court order to pay more than US$200,000 in legal costs incurred by Ms. Rivers, who has successfully petitioned for him to be made bankrupt.

Some of his evidence is supported by Steve McField, one of the attorneys in the case and a consultant for the UDP, now known as the Cayman Democratic Party or CDP.

He testified, in an affidavit filed with the court, that businessman Renard Moxam, another candidate for the party in 2013, had agreed to fund the action and initially paid the retainer for Mr. McField’s services.

During Tuesday’s hearing, Mr. Hewitt said he felt “stupid” to have relied on a verbal agreement.

But he insisted he had been assured by the party hierarchy that all his expenses would be reimbursed.

“I said I will do it if it doesn’t cost me a dime. I can’t afford any costs. I was not willing to pay anything. If all costs were covered, I believed in the action and I would put my name to it,” he said under questioning from attorney Graham Hampson.

Mr. Hewitt said he had lost his business, Fine Art and Framing, and been forced to move out of his home to cut costs because of the expenses incurred.

Asked for comment Wednesday party leader McKeeva Bush said he had made no promises of financial support in connection with the case.

He said he was fighting his own complex legal battle at the time.

“I took my lawyers advice. I did not and could not give, nor promise any financial support from me or anyone else, at any time, nor would I allow the UDP to be used for that purpose.”

He said he would make a full statement on the matter through his lawyer when he returns from the UK next week

The constitutional challenge, based on the fact that Ms. Rivers had a U.S. passport and did not appear to have met residency requirements to run for office, failed.

At that point, Mr. Hewitt said, in his evidence, that he was summoned to a meeting of the “UDP elite” and again persuaded to proceed with an appeal.

He said Mr. Moxam had “firmly stated” at the meeting that he would be the financial backer for the appeal and he would reimburse the Hewitts for the costs incurred to date.

Despite that promise, Mr. Hewitt said he had been required to pay for everything, including meals and hotels for the visiting Jamaican attorney Abe Dabdoub, who had been hired by the party. When the first legal bills came in, he had to dip into his wife’s retirement fund to cover the expense.

He said the party completely reneged on the agreement and he later learned that Mr. Moxam had left the UDP and was declining to pay.

As the bills mounted and Mr. Hewitt faced the prospect of bankruptcy, he appealed to the party leader McKeeva Bush for support.

In an email, dated, Aug. 17, 2015, read to the court, he complained, “Needless to say, no cash has come in. We turned over all expense receipts to Steven [McField] but he couldn’t find anyone willing to pay them.”

The email goes on to claim that Mr. Hewitt’s wife had met with Mr. Bush when the court first ordered that Mr. Hewitt would have to pay costs and she had been told, “this will be taken care of.”

The email adds that nothing has been done.

“So, McKeeva, we need your help. What do you suggest we do? Yes, we were naïve but what we did was for the sake of the party. We believed that the people involved were honest and trustworthy. It never occurred to us that the party would follow Renard’s lead and also renege on us and throw us under the bus,” the email stated.

Testifying on Tuesday, Mr. Hewitt said he had received a brief text message response from Mr. Bush saying that he was almost bankrupt too, and did not have the money to pay.

None of the others copied on the email, including party secretary Tessa Bodden, Mr. Moxam and other party financiers, responded to him at all, he said.

Mr. Hewitt, his wife and Mr. McField testified in affidavits that the UDP was behind the constitutional challenge. Mr. Hewitt said he had been pre-selected as the ideal plaintiff so it would not appear as though the party was directly involved.

According to Mr. McField, the possibility of a constitutional challenge was discussed at a post-election meeting. Mr. Hewitt was not present.

“The gathering decided to elect Gordon Hewitt to mount the challenge,” Mr. McField wrote in his affidavit.

“The only problem with Mr. Hewitt making the challenge was that he had no funds to do so. That is when Renard Moxam stated that he would advance funds to cover the costs of [the] Rivers challenge before the court.”

After the challenge and appeal were lost, Mr. McField wrote that Mr. Moxam had refused to pay any further funds beyond the initial retainer and that he and Mr. Dabdoub were not paid either.

Tuesday’s hearing, part of the bankruptcy proceedings brought against Mr. Hewitt by Minister Rivers, was a legal procedure known as a “public examination of the debtor and his affairs.”

Mr. Hewitt was officially declared bankrupt following a creditors meeting in October. This hearing was to determine what assets, if any, were available to the administrators of his estate to recoup funds to pay the debt to Ms. Rivers.

That includes potentially selling property that he owns but also could include any debts owed to Mr. Hewitt.

Justice Ingrid Mangatal explained the rationale for allowing the issue of the alleged agreement between the Hewitts and the UDP to be explored. She said, “The trust is required to see if anyone else is liable to Mr. Hewitt and his estate. Debts and assets include anything that could be owed to the estate.”

Mr. Hewitt’s bankruptcy could still be discharged if someone steps forward to pay the debt.

Tuesday’s hearing was adjourned until next year to allow him to produce documents, including the mortgage agreement on his home, electricity and water bills and the paperwork on his business, Fine Art and Framing, which he said he had handed over to an employee.

Justice Mangatal said a date would be set after Feb. 1. She added, “It would be very desirable if the matter could be resolved in another way.”


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  1. This is a very sad story and seriously leaves one thinking who to trust anymore. Obviously sorry for Mr. Hewitt, he now has had to come to realize that the old time “word of mouth” is not valued these days and if you are promised a plate of food by anyone it will need to be put in writing. Cayman has changed; and frankly speaking, that change to some is good, but to many the changes has become a nightmare.
    Surely this is an exceptional case which proves we must watch our politicians behavior, and, although I am an avid supporter of the UDP, I do not support licky, licky behavior. I am saddened by what has happened to Mr. Hewitt. For me to go as far and say I am surprised, I will not, because if you are not following them ” toot too toot” every step for four years you will definitely loose your way.
    DIVISION and TRUST certainly went out the door; and what a shame. I maybe wrong, but I believe every word Mr Hewett has said, and someone is responsible for the false promises that has caused the fate of this man’s life. Passing the bucket of water down the line has really taken place, and whom ever took the first bucket should be ashamed to cause such grief to the Hewitt family; and in the same breath any Caymanian who would go so far as to remove the bread from another’s mouth by causing them the pain of loosing their home and value should relinquished all rights of being a Caymanian whether born ya or bred ya.