By Jomo Thomas
Eight years ago, a Plain Talk column titled ‘Lawyers on Trial’ noted that high society always protects its own. In the spotlight then was the forced resignation of lawyer/registrar Tamara Marks and the apparent decision by Attorney General Judith Jones-Morgan to start disbarment proceedings. Miss Marks was never formally disbarred here but was disbarred in the UK, where she was also a registered barrister.
Marks was never made to do the ‘perp walk’ (show up in handcuffs and walk into the court as poor people are compelled to do) like all high society people. She was allowed to resign and leave the jurisdiction rather than be suspended and arrested, as is the fate of ordinary Vincentians accused of far less egregious acts. Marks was eventually tried and found guilty of misappropriating money left in her care as Registrar of the High Court. Her penalty was akin to a parent wagging her finger while intoning naughty, naughty, naughty. A similar courtesy was accorded by ULP senator Ashelle Morgan and Assistant DPP Karim Nelson.
If you have strong ties with the ruling elite, is a member of the political class or rich and powerful, bet your life your treatment will be far different from that of an ordinary citizen who runs afoul of the law. You will never see such a person being brutalised or dehumanised, as is the lot of the poor and vulnerable.
When David Ames of Buccuma Resort was charged with stealing millions of dollars from his workers and the government, he was never arrested. Police high command never demanded for him to be in court. On the assigned date to appear, the magistrate accepted a mealy-mouthed excuse for his absence. No ordinary Vincentian would have been offered such a courtesy.
As the heat mounted on Ames and the public demanded that he be detained, someone somewhere with connections spirited him out of the country. After Ames had made his way to England, Camillo Gonsalves entered into fevered negotiations with Ames to ensure that workers, some of whom had not been paid for months, get their money. The workers never did, but the disclosure exposed Minister Camillo Gonsalves as willing to negotiate with a felon and fugitive from Vincentian justice, rather than demand his extradition. Somebody was in someone’s pocket. It is for the people to decide whether Ames was protected because his pocket, though shallow, appeared deep to ULP big wigs.
Barrister Samuel Commissiong raised eyebrows when he forged the Registrar’s signature and illegally placed the government seal on a document. Rather than face certain disbarment, he was made to pay a measly $5,000.
Add to these woes the primary complaint of citizens that attorneys will take their money and not perform the required work. Worse is the instant where attorneys dip into funds entrusted to them then boast to the aggrieved client that she will never find a lawyer in St Vincent who is willing to take his case. Governments officials who turn a blind eye to evidence of wrongdoing make it easy for the general public to successfully cry foul and label the government’s inaction as a sanction of corrupt practices.
The different strokes for different folks attitude and actions so prevalent in SVG explain why the handling of the case involving Senator Morgan and Assistant DPP Nelson PM Gonsalves, Police Chief Colin John and DPP Sojilla Mc Dowall does not sit well with a large section of the Vincentian public.
Any objective observer will conclude that Mr John’s charges of being beaten, threatened and shot sound credible. If he had indeed threatened or attacked Deputy Speaker Morgan with a cutlass, why did she not report against him? Mr John would have been immediately arrested if either Morgan or Nelson had reported the threats to the police. Why did it take two weeks for the story to break? Why did it take Mr John, the supposed aggressor, to break the story? If Mr Nelson had to shoot Mr John to protect Ms Morgan from injury, why did Morgan immediately call PM Gonsalves and not the police? Why was a cross-complaint lodged only after Mr John complained against Morgan, whom he recognised and two others?
And then, there is the issue with his statement to the people at the hospital. Mr John insisted from the very beginning that Morgan was the only person he recognised. Why would he not make that disclosure when he presented at the hospital? Why would he tell nurses and doctors about two men whom he did not recognise and not disclose the name of the person he recognised?
Why did the police investigation take so long in a case that reaped such minor charges? If Mr Nelson is charged with shooting and wounding Mr John, why is Morgan not similarly charge as one acting in concert with Mr Nelson? Are we witnessing a situation where if someone were to go down, it would be Mr Nelson alone? Why is the witness who went to Mr John’s assistance within minutes after being shot not called to give evidence by the DPP? More questions than answers.
This entire case does not pass the smell test. Someone is being protected, and in the effort to protect some, the whole judicial system is being corrupted.
High society will always protect its own. We, the citizens of this country, have the responsibility to protect our democracy.