The High Court has ruled that politician Arhnim Eustace slandered his former secretary on two occasions, and that those words are going to cost him.
It will be the second time that the former leader of the Opposition and president of the New Democratic Party (NDP) has been ordered to pay a sum of money to Rishatha Nicholls.
Eustace was ordered by the Department of Labour to pay severance pay in the sum of $16,199.99 in 2013, after it was ruled that he had unfairly dismissed Nicholls.
The claim now in the court, filed on behalf of Nicholls by her attorneys Ronald Marks and Patricia Marks of the firm Marks&Marks, submitted that there had been two instances of slander by Nicholls’ former boss.
It detailed that on April 23 and 24 of 2014, Eustace called in to the popular morning radio program “AM Mayhem” on Hot 97.1 and said words which were understood to mean that she was involved in corruption and petty theft.
The case came to an end yesterday at the High Court after a lengthy trial spanning almost four years.
When SEARCHLIGHT spoke to attorney for the plaintiff Ronald Marks, he responded that the matter was prolonged because, “There were several delays on the part of the defendant.” He described that one of the lawyers for the defendant, Bertram Commissiong was ill on a few occasions and, “Mr Eustace too also missed trial because of illness.”
Speaking on the ruling by Justice Esco Henry, Marks stated, “He (Eustace) was found to have slandered her on both occasions. He could not make out his defences of justification, fair comment, and qualified privilege, even though it wasn’t pleaded. The judge rejected all three defences.”
Attorneys for Eustace — Maia Eustace, Vynnette Frederick and Commissiong could not prove to the judge that the statements had any truth to them, Marks said.
“Once you utter the statement and you are saying yes they are true, the onus is upon you to show that it was true, and they couldn’t. They couldn’t show that she had stolen any money, or misappropriated any funds. The allegation was made on the flimsiest of accusations… completely unsupported by any evidence,” Marks explained.
Nicholls was awarded damages to be assessed in September, and announced around October, the attorney said.
Eustace was also ordered to pay costs, and is under a permanent injunction forbidding him from publishing the words.
“We make an application to the Master and we support with authorities to say how much is reasonable compensation in the circumstances,” said Marks, commenting on the subject of damages. The lawyer anticipates a figure of about $100,000, as guided by the authorities.
“The allegation itself is a serious one, is one of a criminal act, and it was repeated… and persons continue to meet her and taunt her and call her cat and thief and that sort of thing in the street.
She lost her job, from since she was fired she is not able to get back a job since then…. They harass her children in the street and at school, they harassing her husband. So all of this they have to take into consideration when making the awards,” he described.
He said that his client is elated as she has been “waiting for justice for years now.”
As to his own feelings, he revealed, “I’m happy for her that she got her justice after such a long time, it’s been a lot of years and a lot of hard work. Eventually justice prevailed.”