Cayman Islands opposition lawmakers have asked that Prisons Director Neil Lavis and the acting chief officer of the Ministry of Home Affairs appear before the Legislative Assembly next week to answer questions about a burgeoning scandal in the prisons service.
Acting Deputy Governor Jennifer Ahearn said Wednesday under parliamentary questioning that Deputy Prisons Director Aduke Joseph-Caesar was paid $15,000 for legal fees last month and returned to work on Feb. 20 following a settlement in her case.
Ms. Joseph-Caesar was first suspended from her job in May 2015 and was fired in November 2015 amid allegations that she had placed a hidden camera in the office of former prisons manager Nina White. It is disputed as to whether Ms. Joseph-Caesar had authorization to do so.
It was later revealed that Ms. Joseph-Caesar had taken that action in April 2015 because of various allegations of “inappropriate behavior” involving Ms. White and prisoners. Ms. White has previously said those allegations were entirely unfounded.
Ms. Joseph-Caesar challenged her firing in a judicial review application filed with the court in January 2016. Following settlement discussions later in the year, it was determined by consent order of the Grand Court in June 2016 that the prisons deputy would be reinstated with back pay from the date of her termination.
Following that agreed reinstatement, Ms. Joseph-Caesar was suspended again – with pay – when further allegations were brought against her. She was ultimately reinstated via a settlement reached on Feb. 10, 2017.
Ms. White, who was also suspended over the incident, left the prisons service after her contract was not renewed in April 2016.
East End MLA Arden McLean asked Ms. Ahearn on Wednesday how the entire situation “got to where it had to go to court.”
Ms. Ahearn replied that the matter was “not before the courts at any time.”
Mr. McLean said he “was astounded” by that answer, since he had been informed last year by Deputy Governor Franz Manderson that a judicial review had been filed and the issue was therefore subjudice (under the court’s purview). Mr. McLean said local media had reported that it was determined Ms. Joseph-Caesar had not been properly fired and was put back in her job.
Ms. Ahearn stated that Government Information Services had issued a correction after the media stories had gone out.
That correction, issued Feb. 14, noted that the Grand Court never made any orders or findings relative to the previous judicial review application from January 2016, but rather that a “consent order” had been entered into by both parties in the dispute.
“The Grand Court did not order any back payments of salary or costs,” the government statement read.
The consent order on June 22, 2016, was signed by a judge of the Grand Court.
It stated: “It is ordered and directed that; a) [Ms. Joseph-Caesar] remains engaged in the position of deputy director of prisons until such time as she resigns or her employment is lawfully terminated; b) the defendant [the government represented by the chief officer of the Ministry of Home Affairs] shall pay [Ms. Joseph-Caesar] arrears of salary, accrued leave and pension contributions from Nov. 2, 2015 [the date of her firing] … ; c) [the government] shall pay [Ms. Joseph-Caesar’s] legal costs in the sum of $24,000.”
In addition to the more recent settlement in the case, the government has paid $39,000 in legal fees for its former prisons deputy and kept her on paid leave without working for nearly two years.
Ms. Ahearn later clarified that there was a conflict with the local Prisons Law and the Public Service Management Law, which governs the hiring of all civil service employees. Under the Prisons Law, only the prisons director can decide to fire employees. In Ms. Joseph-Caesar’s case, that decision had been made by the former chief officer, Eric Bush, who – under the public service law – was the person who hired Ms. Joseph-Caesar.
Ms. Ahearn said she would have to consult with the prisons director to answer further questions in the case. Mr. Lavis was off island Wednesday.
Mr. McLean asked for him to appear next week, if that was the will of the assembly members.