Attorney General Basil Williams SC yesterday stopped short of publicly apologizing for his conduct during the Carvil Duncan High Court hearing, which Justice Franklin Holder has described as “despicable,” but expressed his willingness to work along with the judge to have the matter sorted out.
“…We can’t allow [Anil] Nandlall to create this problem and then we leave it unresolved…The judge and I will resolve the issue,” Williams said. Justice Holder in a letter of complaint which was dispatched to Chancellor (ag) Yonette Cummings-Edwards on Monday, called Williams’s behaviour “contemptuous” and made it clear that he will not deal with Williams unless he receives an apology in open court. It was Duncan’s lawyer, Nandlall, a former AG who took to Facebook hours after the court hearing had ended, claiming that Justice Holder had been threatened in open court.
Yesterday reporters were gathered for an engagement at Williams’s chambers when a statement on the issue was handed out. Williams had initially declined to take questions on the statement. But when pressed on if he intends to apologize to Justice Holder, Williams said, “Well we will work with the judge…. The allegation that I threatened to kill him and all that nonsense, that is not so and I suppose in the office I am in, these allegations keep cropping up.” He said that the statement distributed to the media was his response to Justice Holder’s letter.
“We [will] discuss it because, as you know, Nandlall is the one who caused the problem for three hours and the engagement with the learned judge and myself was merely three minutes,” he said, adding the entire issue will be dealt with “at the right time”.
He said that in response to Nandlall’s claim he and his three witnesses have submitted statements.
In his letter, a copy of which was seen by this newspaper, Justice Holder detailed what transpired in court. He said that he left the bench after Williams uttered the words: “I could say what I want to say and when I want to say it, I have always been like that.” Justice Holder said he left the bench without adjourning the matter or giving instructions to either party.
“I am not prepared to sit to hear Mr Williams as an attorney-at-law in any matter whatsoever, unless he makes a genuine and meaningful apology to my satisfaction, in open court, both to me and to the Members of the Bar since they too were scandalized by his despicable conduct,” Justice Holder wrote.
Williams, when told that the judge made specific reference to a statement he made in court during the hearing, said he had addressed what he said during the press conference he held at NCN last Friday.
“And as I said, everything that I dealt with in that short time was to disabuse the learned judge’s mind that his interpretation was not so,” he said.
Asked again if he will be apologizing, he said “I don’t know about apology,” before restating that he will work along with the judge to resolve the issue.
The Minister of Legal Affairs, in his statement, thanked Justice Holder for “doing the right thing and exposing the iniquity of Nandlall.”
The statement said that as a result of what transpired he was not “unprepared” to work with the judge to resolve what was, “a fleeting engagement after the business of the day was completed.” It was emphasized that the given that Duncan’s case involved a challenge to decisions made by the President and the Prime Minister it ought to have been conducted in a courtroom equipped with a voice verbatim digital recording system; which was acquired by the last government for millions of dollars. “Such a statement would give a court a verbatim record of its proceedings and an immediate print out if required. Nandlall would be unable to have all the judges gathered on his allegations, where a verbatim record existed,” the statement said.
As a result of the absence of this recording system, the statement said, both the AG and Justice Holder were “left exposed to the “crassness” of Nandlall.
Nandlall in a response to Williams yesterday afternoon, questioned why the Guyana Chronicle newspaper was the only media outfit to get a copy of Justice Holder’s letter. He pointed out that snippets of the letter were published over the last two days and despite the newspaper’s best efforts to “spin” the issue each publication “sunk the Attorney General deeper into a conundrum from which he may not be able to extricate himself in the end.”
Nandlall said that from the excerpts carried by the newspaper, in addition to the judge feeling disrespected and Williams being in contempt of court, the judge’s account bore a “striking similarity” to his and was “materially different” from Williams’ version. “In other words Williams has not only publicly lied about my conduct but he effectively is calling the learned judge a liar as the judge’s version did not corroborate the concocted tale which he told at his press conference,” Nandlall said. He added that the AG has dragged two junior attorneys into the matter by getting them to give statements which are “palpably false”.
Nandlall also pointed out that the judge in his letter dismissed a statement made by Williams that he (Nandlall) was disrespecting him all morning.
He said that Williams’ statement yesterday had aggravated the wrongs he has already committed by not refusing to accept responsibility for his outrageous conduct and apologizing to the judge and the nation for his blatant prevarications. He took issue with the Williams thanking the judge “for doing the right thing and exposing the iniquity of Nandlall” and also for insulting the judge’s intellect.
Nandlall said that as far as he was aware, the judge “has not said a single word critical of me.
“I am so happy that the nation has witnessed this incident. It has provided to the public, a preponderance of irrefutable evidence that this gentleman is mentally unfit to hold public office. Significantly, he has furnished this evidence all by himself, unsolicited. It is now for the President to act.”
Williams had explained during last Friday’s press conference that when Justice Holder indicated that he was going to adjourn the matter, he asked whether he could be permitted to ask Duncan’s confidential secretary one final question and was permitted to do so.
According to Williams, after noticing that the judge was about to leave the bench, he enquired whether the answer to the last question was recorded. “The judge to my surprise said, ‘Mr Williams you are not in charge of my court.’ And I said, ‘No sir’ …but the judge then said to me ‘Mr Williams I interpret what you are saying to mean that I deliberately did not record the answer that was given by the witness previously and I take great umbrage at that.’ And I said, ‘Sir, surely that is not on your record, because I never said anything to that effect or intended anything like that,’” he explained.
Williams recalled that he told the judge that his comments reminded him of a similar allegation made against him by a magistrate several years ago.
“He [the magistrate] cited me for contempt and the rest is history. And I said that since then I have always been very particular about what I say to the courts and to be precise so that nothing else like that could return and I said coincidentally that magistrate is dead now and I moved on,” he said.
Nandlall is adamant that the judge was threatened and he said that he has several persons to corroborate this including Duncan and his co-counsel.
Justice Cummings-Edwards has since said that the judiciary would pronounce on the issue soon.
“I am in receipt of information in relation to that matter and the matter is currently being address-ed,” she told reporters shortly after she took the oath of office on Monday.
“An official report will be given to the press as soon everything is completed… within a matter of days,” she added.
Both Nandlall and the opposition PPP/C have said that Williams is unfit to hold office and have issued calls for an immediate investigation into the matter.