January 17, 2014
Lawyers withdraw from ‘Vote No’ case

The members of the “Vote No” Committee are, for at least the time being, without a lawyer.{{more}}

The four members of the Committee were recently served with documents indicating that the Caribbean International Law Firm (CILF) had applied to the court to be removed as the Committee’s solicitors.

Frank daSilva, Public Relations Officer (PRO) of the Committee told SEARCHLIGHT on Tuesday that he is baffled by this decision taken by Nicole Sylvester, representing CILF.

He said it was only when he was served with a document by a bailiff on January 7, 2014 that for the first time, he learned that CILF had applied to be removed as the Committee’s solictors.

da Silva said that he was in for a bigger shock after he realized that Sylvester had applied to the High Court for removal since April 2013.

The application made by CILF for removal from the record as Solicitors for the Vote No Committee states that “the claimants and solicitors are no longer in accord and the Solicitors feel unable to effectively represent the Claimants.”

However daSilva claims that he knows of no reason why CILF would say that they are no longer in accord.

“I am just at a loss as to the reasons, as you are,” daSilva told SEARCHLIGHT.

The Committee, made up of Chairman Margaret London, General Secretary Venold Coombs, Public Relations Officer Frank daSilva and Committee Member Earl Alexander was formed in the run up to the referendum on a proposed new constitution in 2009.

The group challenged Minister of Finance Dr Ralph Gonsalves and Attorney General Judith Jones Morgan on the legality of using $4 million, money the government sourced by way of a special warrant, to fund the government’s “Vote Yes” campaign.

The Vote No Committee objected, and made a request to receive equal funding. They said, in a letter to the Prime Minister, “to deprive the No Vote Committee of the civic rights to educate the public on perhaps the most important event in this country’s history is to deprive them of their democratic rights.”

The Committee had said it was not only seeking funding from the government for its campaign, but also requesting equal opportunity to use various media and venues to disseminate information in support of its cause. After no funding was provided for the Vote No Committee, the Committee sued the minister of finance and the attorney general, claiming they had contravened several sections of the Constitution.

daSilva said he had been in contact with Chairman Margaret London throughout, and they were waiting for the court to set a date for the matter to be heard.

“I was totally unaware of any such action – in fact we have had, as far as I know as the PRO, no discussion or disagreements with the lawyers, none!” da Silva exclaimed.

Sylvester’s application for the removal of her firm was not the only thing of which da Silva said he had no prior knowledge.

The talk show host and activist said it was only last week that he found out that the matter had been set down for hearing at the High Court on September 18, 2013.

“Again I was never informed,” he told SEARCHLIGHT.

When asked what arrangement the Committee had with CILF concerning fees, daSilva said they had none. He explained that originally, the case was being handled by lawyer Sharon Morris Cummings, but when she returned to Trinidad to take up a position there, she handed the file over to CILF.

daSilva said Morris Cummings was providing her services to the Committee free of charge, with the Committee being responsible for the provision of all office stationery used in the preparation of court documents and for all court fees.

He said after the file was handed over to CILF, there was no discussion with the firm about fees, and since then, that matter was never raised with the Committee by Sylvester or CILF.

When SEARCHLIGHT contacted Sylvester, she confirmed that she took over the matter from Sharon Morris Cummings, and chose not to comment as she does not think it appropriate to do so.

daSilva however reiterates the importance of having the case heard.

“This matter was not about Frank da Silva, I am merely the conduit and the Vote No committee was merely the conduit,” he said.

When contacted, Chairman Margaret London and Committee Member Earl Alexander both refused to comment. However General Secretary Venold Coombs said that he too was left in the dark and was surprised when he was served the notice last week.

He said he had no previous knowledge that Sylvester was making an application to remove herself as legal counsel for the case.

da Silva said when he received the notice last week, he initially thought about dropping the case, but then thought that it was important to have the matter resolved in order to set the matter right.

He said he is considering taking the matter up with lawyer and Unity Labour Party (ULP) senator Jomo Thomas, as the matter is not one against the government, but one of principle.

“If the NDP had done the same thing, Frank Da Silva was going to challenge it,” he said, adding that it had nothing to do with the Unity Labour Party (ULP) and Frank daSilva.

“It has to do with what was right,” he said. (DD)