July 20, 2012
Bequia Rotary Club, Bequia Paradise Primary School heading for legal showdown

A legal battle may be brewing on Bequia over a property occupied by the island’s Rotary Club, and court arguments, if it comes to that, may centre on the non-payment of $14.{{more}}

The parties involved have noted to SEARCHLIGHT the closeness of the Bequia community and their desire for an amicable solution.

But they have each retained a lawyer, as they stake out their claim to the property, which housed the now defunct Lower Bay School (LBS).

The property, a SEARCHLIGHT investigation found, is under the trusteeship of the Lower Bay Trustees Inc., which originally comprised Marie Kingston, Berton King, and George Simmons, according to the LBS Incorporation Act of 1986.

Simmons is dead and SEARCHLIGHT understands that a woman replaced him as a trustee.

According to the Act, the nine-member Board of Governors of the LBS must elect or appoint trustees, but sources familiar with the operation of the Board, told SEARCHLIGHT it is not functioning.

The original trustees in 1997 leased the property to the Bequia Rotary Club for 99 years, at $1 per year.

The Bequia Rotary Club, which began occupying the property in 1999, did not pay the lease for 14 years, although they spent some $50,000 to rehabilitate the property, SEARCHLIGHT understands.

The Trustees in March signed a new lease with the Bequia Paradise Primary School Inc, of which Sabrina Mitchell — daughter of former prime minister Sir James Mitchell — is an owner.

But SEARCHLIGHT’s investigation found that the Rotary is likely to claim possessory title, a legal provision that allows persons who occupy property unmolested for twelve years to claim ownership.

Sabrina’s sister, Louise Mitchell-Joseph, a lawyer, has been retained to represent Paradise Primary, while Grahame Bollers represents the Bequia Rotary.

Bollers told SEARCHLIGHT on Wednesday that the Rotary’s position is laid out in a written response to Mitchell-Joseph and that he would give it to SEARCHLIGHT on condition that Mitchell-Joseph also shares with the publication her letter to him.

But Mitchell-Joseph also told SEARCHLIGHT on Wednesday that it is not in the interest of the Bequia Rotary or Paradise Primary for the matter to be ventilated in the press and giving the document to the media would be counter to that position.

SEARCHLIGHT understands that the Bequia Rotary instructed its lawyers to ask owners of Paradise School not to enter LBS or disturb their operations there. Sources also said that the Rotarians have written Commissioner of Police Keith Miller and Northern Grenadines representative Dr Godwin Friday on the matter.

Mitchell-Joseph told SEARCHLIGHT that the Rotary’s 99-year lease has “a very straightforward termination clause”.

Both lawyers and their clients have declined to share a copy of the lease document with SEARCHLIGHT but the publication was reliably informed that the lease says that the agreement can be terminated if the lessee fails to pay the money —$1— twenty-one days after it is due.

Mitchell-Joseph told SEARCHLIGHT that the document was drafted like a one-year lease, “in that if there was non-payment of the lease monies then the Trustees could easily terminate the lease.

“So it was 99-year lease providing that you were making the payments. It was $1 a year and the Rotary failed to pay the $1 a year,” she explained.

The lease was very clear about whom the money was to be paid to and when, Mitchell-Joseph further said.

“There was nothing ambiguous about it,” she said.

She told SEARCHLIGHT that “the fact is — and this was confirmed by the lawyer on the other side — that there is a very clear termination clause in that agreement and it was duly terminated.”

But Bollers said he made no such acknowledgement.

“My only communication with Mrs. Mitchell-Joseph and her clients was by letter dated 25 May, 2012, written on my client’s instructions. This letter contains no such acknowledgement, to the contrary it clearly sets out my client’s case under the Limitation Act and warns Mrs. Mitchell-Joseph’s clients that ‘any attempt by you or your servants and/or agents to dispossess them of possession will amount to trespass for which my clients will not hesitate in instituting both civil and criminal proceedings to protect their legal rights’,” Bollers told SEARCHLIGHT in an email Wednesday.

But Mitchell-Joseph also told SEARCHLIGHT that the Rotary is claiming “squatters’ rights”, a stance, she said, that could bring the non-profit service organisation into disrepute.

“What their lawyer is saying is that because they breached the lease, because they didn’t pay the $1, then that means that they were there as squatters.

“The image of Rotary will be very much sullied if anyone hears that a Rotary member is trying to claim squatter’s rights. It goes against everything the Rotary stands for. The Rotary is there to give service. Not to take away property by virtue of illegal sub-procedures,” Mitchell-Joseph said.

But Mitchell-Joseph reiterated that while Paradise Primary did not want the situation to reach the stage where it receives media attention, “They have two [legal] feet on which to stand.

“It is a clear-cut case,” she said.

But it seems that the Rotary Club will also argue that it was approached to lease the property, spent its money to renovate it and was never asked for the lease money when it didn’t pay.

Sources close to the Trustees say that the Trustees would welcome an out-of-court resolution in which the Rotary and Paradise School use the property jointly, even as sources spoke of a Rotary that is in decline — a situation that club president Clayton Ollivierre denied.

Meanwhile, Sabrina Mitchell told SEARCHLIGHT on Wednesday that Paradise Primary, which has 62 students and nine teachers, has a valid lease on the property, which came into effect June 1, 2012.

“The school has leased the property from the owners of the property, which is the Incorporated Trustees of Lower Bay School, who are the people who have the deed for the school,” she said.

“The Rotary’s lease has been terminated,” she further said. “They have broken conditions on the lease and the lease was terminated since March, giving them [60] days to vacate the premises.”

Sabrina said that while Paradise Primary does not want to move from its current location — which it has occupied for 12 years — they were given a year’s notice to vacate the property, owned by a family in Bequia.

“… But the Bequia Paradise School Inc. are the new tenants of the property (LBS) and as the new tenants, we are prepared to allow them (Rotary) to have their meetings there if they still wish to do so,” Sabrina told SEARCHLIGHT.

In the meantime, one source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, maintained that the situation would be best resolved out of court.

“Bequia is a small place and we have to live in Bequia with everybody,” the source said.