Sun | Mar 29, 2020

Clinton Chisholm | Memories of life with a sweetheart

Published:Wednesday | February 26, 2020 | 12:14 AM
Retired Justice Seymour Panton
Clinton Chisholm
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Justice Seymour Panton was the guest speaker at the launch of my recent book A Controversial Clergyman. He was a clerk of courts during my time working in the RM Courts in Montego Bay, straight out of high school (1968-1974).

In passing during his address, Justice Panton said: “Clinton flirted with the law”. Right after his address I came on and readily said “…I did not simply flirt with the law. Law has been my sweetheart ever since, it’s just that we never got married.”

This evoked smiles from a couple ‘judicial’ friends and others in the audience. My wife knows that I have been in love with the law before and since we got married 44 years ago.

I had a truly rewarding time working in the courts. Two experiences, nay three, jump to mind that deserve mention re the vagaries, etc., of the legal system.

In a case in the circuit court a young first-time offender came up before the late Justice Uriah Parnell. A sad case it was. Based on the evidence adduced, the young man was found guilty by the jury, and the law had a mandatory prison sentence for that offence.

After the verdict was announced, Justice Parnell discharged himself in solemn tones in announcing his sentence with words that have stuck with me over the years because I wrestled with whether he was really just in sentencing that young offender.

Parnell J. said in part: “The people who make laws don’t know what a trial judge faces in court. The law says I should send you to prison but I am not doing that. I am putting you on probation in your own recognisance. Let them write me up!”

I don’t think anyone in court disagreed with him, but a critical question remains. Did he act with justice or with that extrajudicial/non-judicial virtue called mercy? Non-lawyers need to know that the prerogative of mercy does not reside within the courts but with Her Brittanic Majesty (the Queen) or her representative in Jamaica, the governor general!

The other memory from my sweetheart days pertains to another circuit court trial. The accused was found not guilty on the main count of the indictment but guilty on the other dependent count. A bizarre verdict which puzzled as much as it annoyed all others in court, including the trial judge.

The judge (name withheld) just stopped short of calling the jurors idiots, but expressed disgust at the logical puzzle involved in their verdict and proceeded to banish all of them from ever serving on a jury again. I recall this vividly because one of my church brothers, a long-standing friend, was on that jury.

Here is the puzzle for me to this day.

There are two sets of judges in a jury trial: the judges of the facts (jury) and the judge of the law. In this case then, the judge of the law punished (severely) the judges of the facts! Justice or what?

Finally, on a lighter note, that same judge, while he was a Crown Counsel (the name I recall way back then for members of the DPP’s office), was prosecuting a case with three lawyers (who regularly appeared together) appearing for the accused. While said Crown Counsel was marshalling the evidence, one of the three defence attorneys stood up to raise an objection. As he stood up, the Crown Counsel roughly commanded: “Sit down, you are just a baggage boy in this case.”

I had to cover my mouth with a hankie not to laugh out loudly. Quite unkind of the Crown Counsel but not untrue!

Life with my sweetheart, rarely a dull day during our affair.

Rev Clinton Chisholm resigned his courts office job in 1974 as acting deputy clerk of courts to study theology. In 2016 he began studying law at The University of the West Indies but withdrew on medical grounds at the start of his second year when a botched cataract surgery left his left eye blind. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com