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Former chief magistrate Marcia Ayers-Caesar

Chief Justice Ivor Archie has repeatedly denied that he threatened or forced former chief magistrate Marcia Ayers-Caesar to resign as a High Court Judge.

While under cross-examination from Ayers-Caesar’s lawyer Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, SC, in her continuing case against him and the Judicial and Legal Services Commission (JLSC) yesterday, Archie was forced to continuously deny that he coerced her resignation amid public furore over the 53 part-heard cases she had left upon taking up her then-new post in April 2017.

Archie noted that the JLSC had decided that Ayers-Caesar’s conduct in allegedly misrepresenting her unfinished caseload could potentially warrant disciplinary action, but felt she should be given an opportunity to atone for her error.

“She had lost credibility and trust and the only way to restore that was to accept responsibility and go back and fix the matters,” Archie said.

He admitted that prior to her appointment, she informed the JLSC that her staff had told her she only had 28 unfinished cases. He said he was given the impression that the cases were at a preliminary stage and could easily be restarted before another magistrate without much inconvenience.

However, Archie said he later learned from Ayers-Caesar’s successor, Chief Magistrate Maria Busby-Earle-Caddle, that the number was higher and some of the cases involved people who had been on remand for up to seven years.

He said the discrepancy in the figures provided was of more concern than general public criticism of the unfinished cases.

“My consideration would have been the discrepancy between the two lists and the explanations up to that point were, in my mind, quite unsatisfactory and incredible,” he said.

Archie claimed that he merely sought to give Ayers-Caesar an option to save her reputation following the “ugly situation” and she freely accepted it.

“I sought to appeal to her conscience and her sense of professional responsibility,” Archie said.

“I did indicate that her position was really quite ugly and she might want to consider stepping down and finishing her matters. I was speaking as her boss and, at the time, her friend.”

He also repeatedly denied that Ayers-Caesar was handed a prepared resignation letter and a press release announcing her decision, or that she was pressured into accepting.

“As the head of an organisation, one often has difficult conversations with persons not living up to their responsibilities in the way they should. One does have these difficult conversations from time to time but I won’t characterise that as putting pressure,” he said.

Confronted by minutes from a JLSC meeting prior to his final discussion with Ayers-Caesar, which Maharaj claimed showed it had made a decision to initiate disciplinary proceedings if she failed to take their suggestion, Archie claimed there was no ultimatum, as they would still have to have separate considerations on the next course of action.

He also noted that the JLSC could not simply remove her or recommend that her appointment be revoked as suggested by her.

Asked why he went to President’s House when Ayers-Caesar went there to hand-deliver her resignation letter to then-President Anthony Carmona, he said he was only being supportive.

Archie also admitted that he had limited discussions with Carmona on the issue, as he was concerned as he had executed her appointment. He claimed he did not reveal confidential details and the eventual suggested course of action.

Archie said when Ayers-Caesar and Carmona eventually met, she was emotional and he (Carmona) too had tears in his eyes.

There were numerous technical difficulties with the virtual hearing yesterday, with Archie even chiming in to suggest that the issue with bandwidth was caused by the fact that 200 people, most of whom were not directly involved in the case, were logged into the system, which was designed to comfortably accommodate less than half the number of users.

Archie, who could not testify at his lawyer’s office as he is in quarantine for seven days, coughed incessantly throughout the hearing before Justice David Harris.

The trial is expected to conclude today when the JLSC’s witnesses – its secretary Coomarie Goolabsingh and Archie’s former associates and current High Court Masters Sherlanne Pierre and Jade Rodriguez – are cross-examined.

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.