Deborah Martin criticised for being absent from Kern Spencer's corruption trial
Barbara Gayle, Justice Coordinator
Objections have been raised by a senior defence lawyer to the utterances Senior Resident Magistrate Judith Pusey made last week because attorney-at-law Deborah Martin was not available to represent former junior minister Kern Spencer at the continuation of his corruption trial.
Martin, at the time, was representing Police Constable Lescene Edwards at his murder trial, which started on September 23 before a 12-member jury in the Home Circuit Court.
Edwards' case has been before the court for the last 10 years and his trial is expected to be completed on Tuesday.
Edwards is charged with the murder of his former girlfriend, 23-year-old Aldonna Harris, who was fatally shot at her home in Pembroke Hall in September 2003.
Spencer's case is set to continue tomorrow and Pusey has requested that Martin make her best effort to be in court.
News of the adjournment had sparked criticisms from members of the public with some calling for criminal sanctions to be taken against Martin.
But senior attorney-at-law Valerie Neita-Robertson told The Sunday Gleaner that "for a resident magistrate to require you to abandon your client is a breach of your responsibility and is just never done".
Neita-Robertson and Martin are representing Edwards in the case which enters its sixth week tomorrow.
Neita-Robertson said that in every contractual arrangement with a client, a lawyer is required to carry out his or her duty to represent the client. She explains that a lawyer also has an ethical, professional and contractual duty to a client because the client not only pays, but selects the lawyer to represent him.
"The system of justice says a person is entitled to a lawyer of his choice," she says.
She explained that when a case such as Edwards' takes six weeks then there are other cases that will have to be put off. She said several cases which were set for trial in that court during the six-week period had to be put off each week for other dates.
"It has always been the practice for the higher courts to take precedent over the lower courts and this is understood, and it is acknowledged by all the courts," she said. She stressed that it was a fact that a higher court had superior jurisdiction.
Neita-Robertson further said that when a trial begins before a jury, the case has to proceed until it is completed because the jurors have to leave their homes to come to court to do their civic duty. She said in the case of matters before a resident magistrate's court, those are usually adjourned from period to period depending on the availability of the witnesses, the lawyers and the resident magistrate.
In referring to Edwards' case, Neita-Robertson said "in a matter 10 years old, the first trial date, there is a higher obligation to complete the matter". She said once it was revealed to the court that Martin was appearing in a murder case in the Home Circuit Court, then there should be an understanding between counsel, the Bench and the prosecution as to how best to work within the set of circumstances to complete Spencer's case.
The senior counsel said all it deserved was a great deal of courtesy and cooperation on all sides.
Although two lawyers are representing Edwards, Neita-Robertson said each plays a role and needs to be present to hear the evidence as it unfolds and make the necessary submissions and objections.
"A lawyer representing an accused in a murder trial cannot just get up and run off because the General Legal Council says you have a duty to your client and the rules of ethics say what are your duties," Neita-Robertson said.
She also insisted that an accused person in a resident magistrate's court is also entitled to the lawyer of his choice.
"So for a resident magistrate to close her eyes to all the existing circumstances and fail to apply the courtesy due in regard to the superior court, is grossly unfair," says Neita-Robertson.
Martin, in responding to the comments and criticisms levelled against her, said that the director of public prosecutions, Paula Llewellyn, was aware that the case was proceeding in the Home Circuit Court.
She said the case was set on the court list as priority for September 23. There were 25 witnesses, some were retired persons and there was an expert witness from overseas. She said the case could not be adjourned once it had started for her to appear at the continuation of Spencer's trial.
"I do not understand the utterances being made in circumstances where I am representing an accused person whose murder trial has been going on in the Home Circuit Court," she said.
"I just cannot understand why I am expected to abandon Edwards' defence because it would be unethical and immoral to do so," Martin added.
Spencer and his former personal assistant Colleen Wright are on trial for money laundering and illicit enrichment arising from the implementation of the Cuban light-bulb programme.