Anesia Baptiste’s attorneys withdraw services
October 9, 2012
Anesia Baptiste’s attorneys withdraw services

Former opposition senator Anesia Baptiste is seeking new lawyers in her case against the government in relation to the 16 charges against her for statements she made while campaigning{{more}} for the opposition-led “Vote No” campaign in the 2009 constitution referendum, while she was a public servant.

The High Court yesterday granted an order removing lawyers Bertram E. Commissiong QC, Trinidadian Keith Scotland, and Maia Eustace — daughter of Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace — as counsel on record for Baptiste.

The court also said that a date — in the next law term — will be decided for Baptiste’s case, to allow her to seek new counsel, the politician told SEARCHLIGHT yesterday.

The development is the latest after Baptiste’s fallout with the New Democratic Party (NDP) in April.

The Opposition Leader fired Baptiste as a senator after she said she would not obey an NDP policy prohibiting the party’s election candidates or prospective candidates from speaking negatively about religions.

The lawyers, who have represented the NDP in other matters and who were working on Baptiste’s case for free or at discounted rates, cited “irreconcilable differences” between them and their former client.

The application was heard in chambers yesterday, before Justice Gertel Thom.

Maia Eustace, in her affidavit on behalf of the legal team, said “certain public utterances” by Baptiste “which touch and concern the competency of lead counsel, Mr Commissiong QC, demonstrate an inherent lack of confidence by the claimant with respect to lead counsel, which transcends to the legal team”.

Ms Eustace was referring to Baptiste’s letter in the News newspaper on May 11, 2012.

Baptiste was writing in response to an earlier opinion piece by Commissiong, who wrote that the Constitution was never declared “supreme” in relation to the by-laws of non-governmental organisations.

Commissiong argued that the NDP policy on statements about religion did not contravene Baptiste’s constitutional rights, as she had said.

Ms Eustace, in the affidavit presented to the court yesterday, quoted Baptiste’s response in the newspaper, in which Baptiste said: “Sometimes, legal minds that are elevated by title speak utter stupidness, corrupting their better judgement for political expediency. These people are not men of conscience but are opportunistic agents in a parasitic mode upon democracy”.

She further wrote: “Such people in a political party who are out of touch with the people of the Country, out of touch with respect for rights and freedoms, out of touch with sound logic and out of touch with real examples of the use of the law, should resign from their political party. They should certainly not be involved in giving political strategy advice and should stop brining the legal profession into disrepute”.

Ms Eustace said in her affidavit that she is informed by Commissiong and Scotland “and verily believe the same to be true and in fact do join with them in averring that in the circumstances of the resulting attenuation of the attorney-client relationship, we the application find it imprudent to represent the claimant”, and asked the court to release them from the case.

But Baptiste told SEARCHLIGHT yesterday that she was only informed on Thursday of her team’s wish to stop representing her, one court day ahead of the hearing, which was at 9 a.m. yesterday.

She said she was invited to a meeting at the chambers of Cato and Cato in Kingstown, Thursday, and was told of the lawyers’ wish to be released from the case.

Baptiste gave SEARCHLIGHT a copy of the legal team’s letter, explaining the reasons for their decision, but said the letter did not contain other reasons given orally.

The letter was written by Ms Eustace and also signed by Commissiong and his daughter Mira Commissiong, another lawyer, and signed by Ms Eustace on behalf of Scotland.

In the letter, Ms Eustace said the “tenor” of Baptiste’s statement in the press with respect to Mr Commissiong’s interpretation of the Constitution, including her “characterisation of him and/or his said interpretation as ‘stupid’ inter alia, transcend to us all as your lawyers in what is a constitutional claim.

“Those statements give the portrayal that you have lost all confidence in us and in the circumstance our ability to perform has been compromised,” Ms Eustace further wrote.

But Baptiste told SEARCHLIGHT yesterday that she “never expressed losing confidence” in her lawyers.

“I want to point this out strongly; the affidavit does not reflect, the letter does not reflect all the reasons that were given to me in that meeting and I think that that is deliberate…” she said.

She further said one of the lawyers had said they are “NDP” lawyer, a

statement Baptiste said another of the lawyers rejected.

“… I think [the] statements about ‘We are NDP lawyers, we are NDP’, is in itself disgraceful in as far as it reflects badly on a … lawyer in this country basically preceding [their] reasons for no longer pursuing justice for a client…” Baptiste said.

She further noted that the lawyers spoke of their decision to quit the case one working day before the trial yesterday.

“I find it was very insensitive to me. I find it was just proliferating my distress and it is very telling, because they are aware of the fact that I am in a poor situation; I am not employed,” Baptiste said. “I would obviously now have to think of how I am going to find other lawyers who I may have to pay etc. and so I feel that it is very unfortunate, what has happened,” she added.

Baptiste said while Ms Commissiong had not appeared in court, she has worked on the case. She and the other Vincentian lawyers had worked for free, Baptiste further said.

She, however, said she had paid Scotland around $3,000 and later provided transportation between Trinidad and St Vincent and provided lodging as part of their arrangement.

Baptiste, a former communications manager at the Ministry of Tourism, resigned from the public service eight months after she was sent home on half pay in March 2010 in connection with the charges brought by the Public Service Commission.

The former member of the ruling Unity labour Party was appointed an opposition senator in December 2010, the general elections.

Since her fallout with the NDP, Baptiste has formed the Democratic Republican Party in August. (