Wildman accused of delay tactics, ambush
Attorneys representing the Financial Investigations Division (FID) and Chief Parish Judge Chester Crooks accused Hugh Wildman, lawyer for Ruel Reid and Professor Fritz Pinnock, of using delay tactics and misrepresentation in challenging Crooks’ decision that they had a case to answer in a multimillion-dollar fraud matter.
Reid, a former Cabinet minister, and Pinnock, ex-president of the Caribbean Maritime University (CMU), contend that Crooks should not have ruled in the matter as he had admitted to conflict-of-interest concerns.
They want the court to quash his ruling.
Crooks, in February 2021, ordered that the matter proceed to trial before recusing himself on the grounds that he had attended Munro College while Reid was head boy.
“We are not saying that we are challenging it on the basis of reason stricto sensu (in a narrow sense), but we are saying, the absence of reason, the context where it is alleged that he was conflicted, then it is pertinent having regard to what the law is, that he must oblige to do so,” Wildman said on Tuesday.
But attorney-at-law Lisa White, of the Attorney General’s Department, cited trial by ambush during Wildman’s submission.
“We submit that this is untenable, and that the claimant should not be allowed to ambush the chief parish judge in this manner. To now qualify it, it’s like the claimants have a moving goalpost and they add things as they go along,” White said.
Wildman, however, argued that a point of law could be raised at any stage without being pleaded. He questioned what might have been labouring the mind of the chief parish judge and submitted that Crooks should have disqualified himself prior to making a judgment.
“The claimant were deprived of a right which would have resulted in the dismissal of the criminal charges against them … . [Judge] Crooks is a very decent person, but we all do lapse at times,” Wildman said, adding that his clients had no alternative remedy.
Shawn Steadman, who represents the FID, however agreed with White and argued that Judge Crooks had described a “potential” conflict of interest, and not an actual one.
“We submit on behalf of the interested party that there is no basis for the claimants claim,” Steadman said.
The lawyers said that the claimants did not present any objection initially when Judge Crooks made the admission.
Steadman said that Wildman himself had no issue with the chief parish judge at the time.
“There were no objections from any of the other parties, so the learned judge proceeded with scheduling a date for the hearing of that application,” Steadman said.
Steadman noted that Wildman had a history of applying for judicial leave and review.
But Wildman insisted that when he had said he had no difficulty with Crooks, he was representing only Pinnock and not Reid, who he still represents in the fraud matter.
Justice Cresencia Brown Beckford, who listened to submissions for two days in the Supreme Court, told the parties that their arguments were useful.
A ruling is expected on February 17.
Reid, his wife Sharen, their daughter Sharelle, along with Pinnock, and Brown’s Town division Councillor Kim Brown Lawrence, were arrested by law-enforcement agencies in 2019 in connection with a major fraud and corruption probe by the FID involving transactions at the CMU.
The charges include conspiracy to defraud, misconduct in a public office at common law, and breaches of the Proceeds of Crime Act.