By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
An individual attorney and Bahamian law firm have been cited for contempt of court by a Supreme Court judge, who blasted: “The time is ripe to discipline these untruthful lawyers.”
Justice Indra Charles, pictured, in a scathing July 6 verdict, blasted Donna Dorsett-Major and the Martin & Martin law firm for their roles in “fabricating allegations” in a bid to force her recusal from a hearing on damages and costs relating to a property dispute.
Suggesting that the claims were “nothing more than a delaying tactic to stall” the case, Justice Charles cited Martin & Martin for drawing up the affidavit containing Mrs Dorsett-Major’s “untruths and fabrications” without conducting a proper investigation to determine if they were correct.
“The time is ripe for the court to discipline attorneys who swear affidavits, and counsel who draft those affidavits, when they are fully aware that the contents of those affidavits are loaded with untruths against judges, as in the present case,” she wrote. Both Mrs Dorsett-Major and Martin & Martin will have the chance to be represented and heard when the contempt charges are read to them on July 23.
Justice Charles’ anger was aroused after a former Cat Island administrator represented by Mrs Dorsett-Major, and his real estate development firm, sought her recusal from a hearing where the damages he was to pay a Texas couple would be determined.
Christopher Stubbs, supported by Mrs Dorsett-Major’s affidavit, alleged that the judge held real or perceived bias against him, and that his right to a fair hearing as guaranteed by article 20 of the constitution was in danger of being violated.
Justice Charles had previously ruled against him, and Mrs Dorsett-Major, and in favour of Alan and Sharon Crawford after finding that the ex-administrator interfered with their property rights after selling them a lot in his Shanna’s Cove development on Cat Island.
However, the issue of damages due to the Texan couple and the awarding of legal costs remained outstanding. Their attorney, Glen Curry of the Glinton, Sweeting, O’Brien law firm, “strenuously opposed” the recusal application on the basis that it was a mere “delaying tactic” and had no merit.
Mr Stubbs alleged in his affidavit that Mrs Dorsett-Major mentioned to him on May 11, 2020, some 11 days after the verdict was delivered against him, that Justice Charles had asked her to find out whether he would be prepared to sell his own property to the Crawfords for $100,000.
Denying that any such conversation took place between herself and Mrs Dorsett-Major, the judge said it made no sense to ask such a question after the judgment was rendered. She added: “In deciding who is telling the truth and who is not, the court assessed the demeanour of the witnesses and how they withstood the rigours of cross- examination.
“The court then made factual findings which it is entitled to do. When a party is aggrieved with the findings made by a trial judge, the proper avenue is to appeal the judge’s decision, not to seek the disqualification of the judge.”
Mrs Dorsett-Major, meanwhile, alleged in her own affidavit that it was “apparent” that the Crawfords were present at Cat Island airport “to greet” Justice Charles when all parties and their attorneys conducted a site visit to inspect the properties in dispute.
She claimed the judge and her clerk were driven to the location in the Crawfords’ vehicle, and that they were accompanied by the couple’s attorney, the late Roy Sweeting. After the judge’s clerk suffered a seizure and had to be taken to a local clinic, Mrs Dorsett-Major alleged Justice Charles asked her if she could convince Mr Stubbs to sell his property to the Texan duo for $100,000 then.
Rouschard Martin, of Martin & Martin, who was representing Mr Stubbs, alleged that Justice Charles should have “disclosed at the outset of these proceedings her relationship with the Crawfords”. He also cited cases where Bahamian judges recused themselves from cases if their former law firm was involved in representing any of the parties involved.
But Justice Charles, an expatriate, blasted: “This submission is ludicrous as I have no reason to recuse myself as I am not connected to any law firms or related to any person in The Bahamas.
“The second allegation of ‘considered that these proceedings or related or connected proceedings came before her previously’ is just as ludicrous. There is not a shred of evidence that I have heard any proceedings between these parties.”
Arguing that Mr Stubbs had not presented “a scintilla of evidence” to back his bias claims, Justice Charles added: “The allegation of a relationship with the Crawfords and/or their counsel is unfounded, baseless and unsubstantiated.” She questioned why such concerns had not been raised before or during the trial.
“I am reminded that courts and tribunals must have broad backs. The need to have broad backs is even stronger when unpleasant and wounding accusations are directed at them, especially if the objective is to manipulate the result, for example, as in this case, to delay the assessment of damages and taxation of costs,” Justice Charles added.
“In the present case, the affidavits - particularly that of Mrs Major - are loaded with untruths and fabrications. The only truth in MrsMajor’s affidavit is that my then-clerk suffered a seizure during the site visit, had to be taken to the nearby clinic and everyone had lunch at a nearby restaurant (the only restaurant in the neighbourhood).
“The untruths and fabrications told by Mrs Major are, in my opinion, intentional. She must have envisioned that she would have gotten away with them because the clerk is no longer employed by the court and Mr Sweeting has sadly passed away.”
However, Justice Charles said travel agency invoices retained by the Supreme Court confirmed she had travelled to Cat Island with her police aide - something that was denied by Mrs Dorsett-Major. And “a posse” of police officers had been present to meet her at the airport and escort them around.
“In my judgment, any fair-minded and informed observer, having considered all the facts of the present case, would conclude that there was no real possibility that the court was biased,” Justice Charles concluded.
“In my opinion, the fair-minded and informed observer would be troubled that certain attorneys would descent to the level of fabricating allegations against judges. The time is therefore ripe for the court to discipline these lawyers.....
“I agree with the submissions of Mr Curry that this application is nothing more than a delaying tactic to stall the smooth progress of this case.”