Former Health Services Authority Board chairman Canover Watson will be allowed to retain Queen’s Counsel in his pursuit of an appeal against a seven-year prison sentence following a 2015-2016 fraud and corruption trial.
Requests were made for additional funding so Watson could hire more experienced counsel. These were initially rejected by legal aid staff at the courts, but were allowed on an appeal ruling by Chief Justice Anthony Smellie earlier this month, based on the complexity of the case against the former Admiral Administration executive.
Watson is seeking legal aid, according to court records, because his “not insignificant” assets – as the court described them – in Cayman are being restrained by the Crown prior to asset forfeiture proceedings. In other words, Watson cannot use his personal funds to pay for his own appeal.
Watson was convicted by a seven-person jury on Feb. 4, 2016 of five of six criminal charges against him in connection with the CarePay public hospital swipe-card contract fraud. The court required Watson, who was accused of lining his own pockets in the scheme to the tune of at least US$350,000, to make restitution to the state.
In his judgment of June 16, Chief Justice Smellie agreed that Watson currently has “insufficient funds” to pay for the appeal representation, but that he should be required to make a contribution to those expenses if his appeal is ultimately successful. He was granted $15,000 to pay for local counsel previously, but Justice Smellie said an additional “reasonable” sum should be given to hire senior counsel.
In making her argument to increase Watson’s legal aid funding, court documents filed by local attorney Amelia Fosuhene gave some insight as to Watson’s potential appeal arguments.
Ms. Fosuhene argued that Watson’s trial was occurring simultaneously against the backdrop of former FIFA Vice President and Cayman Islands resident Jeffrey Webb’s guilty plea to racketeering in the U.S.
“Whilst [Webb] was not on trial [in Cayman], he was inextricably linked to Mr. Watson by the prosecution over and over again,” the court records state. “The guilty pleas [in the FIFA case] came during the course of the Watson preparation for trial and [during the] trial.”
Secondly, she notes some of the evidence used in the CarePay trial came in the form of “flash drive” information recovered from Watson’s former business office at Admiral. Some of this information was used by the Crown in Watson’s cross-examination and the information was disclosed to defense attorneys “piecemeal,” the filing states. The late disclosures probably should have required the hiring of an accountant and, possibly, a third attorney to review them, Ms. Fosuhene argues. The court records also allude to a “novel legal argument” that could be made on appeal regarding the definitions applied to some of the charges Watson faced during trial.
“It is arguable that the judge did not adequately understand the nature of the role of Mr. Watson in various appointments and therefore misinterpreted or misunderstood the use of the legislation,” Ms. Fosuhene writes.
The statement relates to Watson’s conviction on counts 3, 4 and 6 of the indictment against him; those dealing with official corruption under the Cayman Islands Anti-Corruption Law.
Although it did not take place in front of the trial jury, Watson’s attorneys did argue in court that those three charges against him should be dismissed because he did not fall under the legal definition of a “public officer.” Trial Judge Michael Mettyear declined to dismiss those charges following a no-case submission by Watson’s attorneys.
Ms. Fosuhene states that the judge’s ruling in the Watson case showed he “struggled with the argument” put forth by defense counsel relative to those charges.
Watson’s lawyers argue that there is also “likely to be significant criticism made about the way in which the original defense was conducted” at trial. Justice Smellie said the court would not support any legal aid funding “to criticize [Watson’s] former lawyers’ handling of the case.”
“No basis for it is explained,” Justice Smellie said. While agreeing to provide additional legal aid funds for an appeal, the chief justice cautioned that the agreement does not necessarily mean Watson’s request for “additional open-ended funding and the appointment of Queen’s Counsel must be met.”
Instead, Justice Smellie referred the matter back to the legal aid director’s office for consideration of “a reasonable sum” to be paid on a contract basis to Ms. Fosuhene as junior counsel and whomever is selected as Watson’s QC for the appeal.
No date has been set for Watson’s appeal.