West Bay couple seeks review of election bankruptcy

Velma Powery-Hewitt and Gordon Hewitt

Gordon Hewitt and Velma Powery-Hewitt of West Bay will appear in Grand Court in November, seeking judicial review of a 2015 decision that left the couple bankrupt after their failed challenge to the 2013 election of MLA Tara Rivers.

The court will hear the case Nov. 17, following a Sept. 8 writ by Mr. Hewitt seeking a formal review of Chief Justice Anthony Smellie’s two-year-old decision demanding court costs of $138,666.79 plus another nearly $77,000 in additional costs, for a total of almost $215,666 mandated by the courts.

In his writ, provided through Miami’s Offshore Alert, Mr. Hewitt repeated his 2013 challenge to Ms. Rivers – that he “sought to overturn the election of Tara Rivers … and remove her from office on the ground that she did not meet the qualifications required for election as mandated in the Constitution” – and said “the decision [had been] unreasonable and in breach of the rules of natural justice.”

He cited Mr. Smellie’s original decision exculpating Ms. Rivers in 2013, noting the challenge had been brought in the national interest and as a matter of Constitutional law, meaning costs ought to be absorbed by government and the judiciary.

“The challenge was brought without animosity or personal vindictiveness,” the couple said this week in joint remarks to the Cayman Compass, citing the Chief Justice’s introductory statement on the case, that Constitutional analysis “is seldom a straightforward exercise of identifying and applying the literal or ordinary meaning of words, as competing arguments in this case illustrate.”

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Adjudication, Chief Justice Smellie said in his statement, involves “the question … of what approach should be taken when the words are ambiguous or undefined and so invite more than one interpretation.”

In June 2013, Mr. Hewitt challenged the candidacy of Ms. Rivers in the May 22 general election, in which she won one of four West Bay seats in the Legislative Assembly, edging out fifth-place Ms. Powery.

Mr. Hewitt claimed the U.S. passport carried by Ms. Rivers compromised her loyalty to the Cayman Islands and that her recent residence and employment in London violated a Constitutional requirement that election candidates live seven consecutive years in the Cayman Islands.

A three-day July trial before the Chief Justice found against Mr. Hewitt, clearing the path for Ms. Rivers’s assumption of a seat in the LA and subsequent appointment as Minister for Education, Employment and Gender Affairs by Premier Alden McLaughlin.

Ms. Rivers was re-elected to the Legislative Assembly in May 2017, and appointed Minister of Financial Services and Home Affairs.

When Justice Smellie announced his decision in August 2013, he acknowledged the case had been in the public interest and reserved judgment on costs, waiting nearly two years to decide that Mr. Powery was liable.

After at least six hearings, the court last October declared the couple bankrupt, placing a lien on their home.

In his Sept. 8 writ, Mr. Hewitt cited  challenges to 2017 candidates Nickolas DaCosta of Cayman Brac West and Little Cayman, and Alric Lindsay of George Town South.

Mr. Hewitt said the action against Mr. DaCosta had been brought under the same Constitutional Section 61 as his action against Ms. Rivers, but the courts had “made no order as to costs.”

Unspecified costs were granted in the case of Mr. Lindsay, but, Mr. Hewitt said, were “only awarded … on the basis that there was no grounds established and in the view of the Honourable Chief Justice of the Grand Court that application should never have been brought.”

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