Former T&T Chief Magistrate says removal as judge was unlawful

(Trinidad Guardian) Marcia Ayers-Caesar says her removal as a High Court Judge is “unlawful and unconstitutional” as she was put under pressure to resign. Because of this, Ayers-Caesar says her resignation letter is “of no legal effect”.

Ayers-Caesar made the statements in a tell-all letter to President Anthony Carmona dated May 19. The Sunday Guardian was able to obtain a copy of the letter to Carmona  and another one sent to the Judicial and Legal Service Commission (JLSC).

It is the first time Ayers-Caesar’s side of the story is being heard by the public.

Marcia Ayers-Caesar

In her letter, Ayers-Caesar said it was with a “deep sense of regret and personal disquiet” that she had to tell Carmona the circumstances surrounding her resignation letter to him.

Ayers-Caesar was this country’s former chief magistrate.

On April 10, two days before she was set to be appointed as a High Court judge, Chief Justice Ivor Archie called her and asked her if she had any part-heard matters, Ayers-Caesar said. Ayers-Caesar said she was “surprised” by Archie’s request “as I assumed that he would know that an office holder at the level of Chief Magistrate would have part-heard matters”.

She also said it was not a “straightforward task to respond quickly to” the amount of part-heard matters before her.

On April 11 Ayers-Caesar said she went to the Port-of-Spain Magistrates’ Court’s Note Taking Unit and discovered she had 28 part-heard matters there. She compiled a list and sent it to Archie.

On April 12 she was sworn in as a High Court judge by Carmona.

Ayers-Caesar said on April 25 she was called into a meeting with Archie where acting Chief Magistrate Maria Earle Busby-Caddle produced a list showing that she had 52 part-heard matters.

Ayers-Caesar met with Archie the following day, April 26, and “at no point did the Chief Justice ask me any questions about the matters on the revised list of 52 cases” she said.

She met with Archie again on April 27 where he informed her that the JLSC held an emergency meeting and decided that she should resign as a judge or have her appointment revoked.

“I understood the Chief Justice to be informing me that a decision was made and that I had no choice but to resign,” she said.

Her resignation letter was already prepared and a meeting with Carmona for her to present that letter was already planned, she said.

Ayers-Caesar said she was “inconsolable” when she heard this.

She, however, signed the resignation letter. However, she said she was unable to get legal advice before she did that.

“I was distraught and I felt that I had no real choice but to sign the letter and accede to the resignation,” she said.

“By now, it had been made clear to me that my resignation had already been orchestrated, and that this was a done deal,” Ayers-Caesar said.

Ayers-Caesar said under the circumstance her resignation was a “constructive dismissal, or rather, constructive removal from office”.

She said she was not given a chance to respond to the JLSC’s allegations against her.

One of those allegations levelled against Ayers-Caesar by the JLSC is that she dismissed 16 cases at the Couva Magistrates’ Court on March 22.

Ayers-Caesar said she “wholly refuted” the accusation that this was “unusual” or the suggestion that there was some impropriety involved in doing this.

She asked Carmona to acknowledge that her “removal from office was unlawful and unconstitutional and can have no legal effect”.

She said according to Section 137 of the Constitution of the Republic of T&T a judge can only be removed from office for misbehaviour and an inability to perform the function of office.

Ayers-Caesar said she was “not guilty of anything that could sensibly be said to amount to misbehaviour”.

“I dispute the charges against me, and I deny that I have acted in breach of my professional duties or in a way that calls into question my competence to be appointed as a judge,” she said.

She claimed that the JLSC acted in breach of the rules of natural justice in putting her under pressure to resign and without giving her a chance to respond to their accusations.

Former attorney general Ramesh Lawrence-Maharaj last week said he was in consultation with Ayers-Caesar and he believes that she is in law still a High Court judge.

He did not say whether she would be taking legal action.

Ayers-Caesar’s letter was also forwarded to Archie and the JLSC.

Meanwhile, in the letter to the JLSC on May 25, Ayers-Caesar stated, “I am not aware of anything that prohibits a High Court judge from sitting as a magistrate, if this is appropriate. It is on that basis that I would be prepared, whilst sitting and performing my duties as a puisne judge of the High Court, to sit, in addition, as a magistrate, for the purpose of completing the part-heard matters.

“I would expect that within the next few days, if the Judicial and Legal Services Commission agrees with this position, that I will be informed in writing of that agreement.”

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