Monday Dec 10

Cayman Islands opposition party reneges on payment of election challenge costs


GEORGE TOWN, Cayman Islands (CNS) -- Cayman Islands resident John Gordon Hewitt is facing bankruptcy because of hefty costs the court ordered him to pay following an unsuccessful challenge and appeal against the election of education minister Tara Rivers to a seat in the 2013 general election. But Hewitt, his wife and an attorney have all sworn that the opposition United Democratic Party (UDP) had committed to picking up the tab.
hewitts.jpg
John Gordon Hewitt and Velma Hewitt
According to affidavits filed with the court, Hewitt had agreed at the request of opposition leader McKeeva Bush and the UDP hierarchy to put his name to the challenge but only if the party paid the bill.

He and his wife, Velma Hewitt – who came in fifth in the constituency poll – claim they were told local businessman Renard Moxam would cover the costs.

The Hewitts and their attorney for the challenge, Steve McField, have all sworn in the official documents that they were never meant to pay for the challenge. John Hewitt was the elector Bush said he needed to challenge Rivers, who has an American passport and was working overseas during the statutory seven-year period prior to the election.

Both were issues that could have seen her disqualified but, in a surprise ruling, Chief Justice Anthony Smellie upheld her election to office. Smellie found that having an American passport because of the hospital where she was born did not mean she had sworn allegiance to another nation and her time at a London law firm was educational development rather than just work.

When Hewitt lost the challenge, despite sections in the election law that say the Grand Court decision is final in an election case and no appeals are allowed, the UDP, according to the documents, persuaded Hewitt to press on with an appeal. But the appeal was dismissed.

Following the original challenge, the chief justice had indicated its importance and queried the request for costs by Rivers. Many people believed that there was a genuine public interest question regarding the qualifications, particularly the issue of foreign passports, which had seen other would-be candidates forced out of the race based on advice from the attorney general Samuel Bulgin.

Bulgin had, until Rivers mounted her challenge, advised the elections office that having a US passport disqualified a candidate in the case of one such individual, who was accordingly disqualified before nomination day. However, once the challenge was mounted, the attorney general adopted River’s position that she was qualified, in order to defend the election official who accepted her nomination who was also named in Hewitt’s suit.

Given the controversies about qualification, the chief justice had commented on the “chilling effect” awarding costs to an unsuccessful challenger would have on future cases regarding questionable qualification of candidates. But despite this the Rivers team pressed ahead and successfully won more than $130,000 in costs for the entire case and appeal against Hewitt, leading to his ultimate bankruptcy.

The Hewitts claim that at that point they were deserted by the UDP when it came to paying the bill. Bush had told them the UDP could not be seen to be the ones mounting a challenge and they needed Hewitt’s name as an elector and nothing more. But the revealing affidavits described how the Hewitts made it clear to Bush and the UDP leaders that they did not have the money needed for the challenge. The couple said they were repeatedly reassured that the UDP and Moxam, who ran unsuccessfully for the party in George Town, were willing to cover the costs.

But, the couple claims, all efforts to get the money from Moxam or the UDP have now failed.

Their allegations are also backed up by a sworn affidavit from local lawyer McField, who had instructed well-known Jamaican legal expert Abe Dabdoub to lead the case. McField said he was present at the meeting when the Hewitts were reassured they would have no financial liability by Bush and Moxam, who McField also said had agreed to cover the costs.

CNS contacted Moxam, who has not made an on-the-record comment but indicated that he had never committed to covering the entire costs of the challenge. Requests to Bush for comment have not yet been answered.

Republished with permission of Cayman News Service

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