(Trinidad Guardian) Several civil judges have expressed alarm over what appears to be an attack on the integrity of Justice Frank Seepersad, as questions are now being raised about whether politics has infiltrated the walls of the Judiciary.
The concern came even as another story broke yesterday raising the issue of “forum shopping” in high profile matters involving former government Minister Devant Maharaj – one dealing with the property tax and the other with the challenge to the appointment of two new judges on the recommendation of the Judicial and Legal Service Commission.
In both cases, Seepersad ruled in favour of Maharaj and granted injunctions which were subsequently overturned by the Court of Appeal.
Forum shopping is the process of deliberately manipulating the computerised selection system to get one’s judge of choice.
In an exchange of emails within their circle, which were obtained by the T&T Guardian, several judges expressed solidarity with Seepersad and outrage over the challenge to his integrity.
Commenting on the situation in an email dated June 8 (Thursday), a senior judge expressed outrage “at the scurrilous attacks on our brother Frank,” but was pleased that the Judiciary was sending out a release to clarify the selection process.
Expressing concern about the impact the situation is having on the public, another judge stated, “It is wise for the judiciary to publicly explain the docket system (on the civil side) as being random, based on algorithms used by the court office’s computer, and the weight of matters in each judge’s docket. I look forward to a public statement.
“There is ample proof in this randomness as, even if we have raised critical issues among ourselves within the judiciary about its operations, and suits questioning those very operations are filed, the algorithms are applied blindly, to place that matter on whoever’s docket the computer selects, without the unwanted hand of any human intervention.”
He added: “To me, the unwarranted social media attention on Seepersad J is an opportunity to explain that the docket system is working perfectly, something that is very heartening to all of us. “
However, agreeing with another judge who expressed concern about the system being manipulated, the judge said, “The filing of a claim, docketing, withdrawal of claim, and refiling until a “more desirable” judge is docketed must also be guarded against, as it upends the random assignment of cases and affects our case loads. As a first step, an investigation should be carried out at the registries to gather data.”
After Seepersad granted the two injunctions in the property tax matter, social media users began questioning why only Seepersad had been presiding over matters of public importance involving United National Congress members and the state. Attorneys for the state have also since written to the Judiciary seeking answers on how so many high-profile cases, including the property tax, ended up before Seepersad.
It was suggested that the UNC was forum shopping until its matters ended up before a judge of their preference, but led attorney for Maharaj, Anand Ramlogan, SC, has since dismissed these allegations.
A source close to Seepersad also said while “forum shopping,” may be possible, a judge has no control over that. The source claimed race and politics were behind the attack on the judge.