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Former chief magistrate Marcia Ayers-Caesar

Derek Achong

Former chief magistrate Marcia Ayers-Caesar has claimed that Chief Justice Ivor Archie, other members of the Judicial and Legal Services Commission (JLSC) and administrative staff conspired together to force her out of office.

Testifying in her highly-anticipated judicial review case before Justice David Harris yesterday morning, the former judicial officer, who holds the record as the first female chief magistrate and the shortest-serving High Court judge, repeatedly alleged that she was threatened by Archie before she grudgingly agreed to tender her resignation in April 2017.

“I did not think I had a choice. I thought what he threatened me with had to be done,” Ayers-Caesar said while being questioned by Senior Counsel Russell Martineau.

Yesterday’s virtual hearing before Justice David Harris was easily the highest attended since the technology was rolled out at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, with dozens of attorneys and members of the public tuning in as Ayers-Caesar was grilled remotely from her lawyer’s office in south Trinidad.

Martineau spent several hours meticulously quizzing Ayers-Caesar over her version of the events which led to her resignation on April 27, 2017.

Asked by Martineau whether she was aware that even if Archie had threatened her as she claimed, he could not make good on it as there is a constitutional process for impeachment of judges, Ayers-Caesar claimed she was not at the time but was subsequently informed.

Martineau noted that while Ayers-Caesar brought the judicial review against the JLSC, the records of its meetings showed that no decision to give her an ultimatum was made.

He suggested that it, in fact, decided that Ayers-Caesar’s conduct in leaving 53 cases unfinished when taking up the judicial appointment may have been sufficient to warrant a disciplinary inquiry.

Ayers-Caesar repeatedly maintained her position over Archie’s alleged representations to her.

“I believed him. I had no reason to believe he was misrepresenting the truth,” Ayers-Caesar said.

Interrogated over how she intended to deal with part-heard cases, Ayers-Caesar said she believed that she, Archie and the other members of the JLSC were attempting to arrive at a workable solution and that she thought that the cases, which she claimed were not at an advanced stage, could be restarted and completed before another magistrate.

Asked why she did not raise an alarm when she claimed that Archie’s then administrative assistant was drafting her resignation letter to be sent to the President, Ayers-Caesar said: “There was no need to object. I felt it was a done deal.”

Martineau also cautioned her about her allegations, as he suggested that she was alleging a major conspiracy against herself by high officeholders.

“They procured my resignation in an illegal way,” Ayers-Caesar said.

She also rejected Martineau’s claims that she misrepresented the number of pending cases left by her when the public furore over the issue arose, shortly after he appointment.

She claimed that her former staff had indicated that it was 28 cases while checks by her successor, Chief Magistrate Maria Busby-Earle-Caddle, revealed almost twice that amount.

Ayers-Caesar denied any wrongdoing in the error over the caseload matter, as she claimed that she was merely transmitting information relayed to her and was also concerned when the number increased after the subsequent check was made.

The trial is expected to continue tomorrow when Archie is expected to be cross-examined.

Unlike Ayers-Caesar, who was required to testify from the conference room of her lawyers’ office, Archie will testify from his home.

At the start of the hearing yesterday, Archie’s lawyers indicated that he was involved in an incident on the weekend and was required to quarantine at home for seven days.

Although Ayers-Caesar’s lead attorney Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, SC, warned that there may be negative public perception, he did not object to this, nor did attorneys for the Office of the Attorney General.

ABOUT THE CASE

Marcia Ayers-Caesar was appointed a High Court Judge in April 2017 but two weeks later, after public criticism over the backlog in cases she had left behind in the Magistrates’ Court, she resigned from the post.

Ayers-Caesar then filed a lawsuit in which she claimed that she was pressured by Chief Justice Ivor Archie and the Judicial and Legal Services Commission (JLSC) into resigning. She also contended that former President Anthony Carmona, who is also a former High Court Judge, refused to intervene after she informed him of Archie and the JLSC’s conduct.

Archie and the JLSC have denied any wrongdoing and have claimed that Ayers-Caesar’s failure to disclose her unfinished caseload was sufficiently serious enough to warrant a disciplinary inquiry.

They also contend that Ayers-Caesar accepted responsibility and freely tendered her resignation with the intention, at that time, to return as a magistrate to complete the part-heard cases before taking up her new High Court position.

While Ayers-Caesar’s case was at a preliminary stage, the Office of the Attorney General filed an interpretation lawsuit to help determine what should happen to her unfinished caseload.

However, most of the cases were restarted and completed by Ayers-Caesar’s successor Maria Busby-Earle-Caddle before the case was determined by High Court Judge Carol Gobin last year.

Gobin eventually ruled that all the cases would have to be restarted, as there was no legal provision for them to be completed before a fresh magistrate.

Most, if not all, of the handful of cases that were put on hold pending the determination of the case before Gobin have since been completed.

Ayers-Caesar’s lawyers had applied to cross-examine Archie and three of the JLSC’s witnesses – its secretary Coomarie Goolabsingh and Archie’s former associates and current High Court Masters Sherlanne Pierre and Jade Rodriguez.

However, they were denied by Harris.

In April, last year, three of Archie’s colleagues overruled Harris’ decisions on the cross-examination.

The Court of Appeal’s decision was upheld by the Privy Council in a separate appeal. An application by the AG’s Office to have Carmona removed from the lawsuit was also resisted and upheld by the Privy Council.

Ayers-Caesar is being represented by Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, SC, Ronnie Bissessar and Vijaya Maharaj.

Archie and the JLSC are being represented by Russell Martineau, SC, Deborah Peake, SC, Ian Benjamin, SC, Ian Roach and Marcelle Ferdinand.

Reginald Armour, SC, Ravi Nanga, Ravi Heffes-Doon, Zelica Haynes-Soo Hon and Diane Katwaroo are representing the AG’s Office.