Following Member of Parliament (MP) Asot Michael’s admission that he contacted Chief Magistrate Joanne Walsh indicating that he would seek to have her removed from the bench, political commentators are not only questioning the timing of the MP’s message but are challenging him to produce the evidence.
Michael said that he had indicated to the magistrate — via a WhatsApp message — that he would write a complaint to the Chief Justice of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court seeking her removal from the bench for “corruption and skulduggery”.
The MP said further, the message was not a threat but, “it is a promise to act in the interest of the integrity of our system of justice”.
But lawyer Warren Cassell, who was speaking on the matter during Sunday’s Big Issues, is questioning Michael’s intent, asking, “why now?” noting that the MP’s message “borders on blackmail”.
“If in fact you have the integrity or the interest of justice at heart, that information you have should have been disclosed immediately when you got it,” he said. “If you’re saying, ‘if you do not recuse yourself, I will put this information to the Chief Justice,’ you’re just using this information for your own good.”
Last Monday, Michael’s lawyer Hugh Marshall Junior accused the Chief Magistrate of confusing her powers when she issued a bench warrant for Michael’s arrest the week prior.
His lawyer also claimed that Magistrate Walsh is biased towards his client because he is a politician, and offered several other reasons why she should recuse herself from the case in which Michael appeared before her.
Walsh, however, disagreed with the reasons cited by Michael’s lawyers and said that the reason she was recusing herself from the case was because the MP threatened her.
Another contributor, Dr Isaac Newton, who is a political advisor, also believes that if the MP has evidence to substantiate his claim, he should make it known.
“So far, he has really placed, by his accusation, a serious dent and tarnish on the [magistrate’s] career,” he opined. “So, he has an obligation to the public to remove that.”
Meanwhile, Dr Oswald Thomas, political analyst and behaviourist, said this latest matter may force the Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party (ABLP) to consider whether Michael has become a “nuisance”.
“The leader [Gaston Browne] has to decide whether or not he has to call MP Michael in for a tongue lashing or whether or not he has sufficient information to refer MP Michael to the disciplinary committee for discipline,” Dr Thomas said.
The analyst also pointed out that the onus is on the parliamentarian’s lawyer to communicate with the magistrate, and not he himself.
“If MP Michael was in any First World country, he would have been arrested for the harassment of a sitting judge,” Dr Thomas added.
Political analyst Dr David Hinds said that as a member of parliament, Michael is not an “ordinary citizen” and he does not believe that “an ordinary citizen could have done what he did and got away with it”, and labelled the MP’s actions “ridiculous”.
He said the matter justifies the thinking of some people that politicians have too much influence on the judiciary.
“I mean, what are you doing WhatsApping a [magistrate]? Let your counsel deal with that. This is a case of an official using naked power to undermine the institutions in Antigua and Barbuda,” Hinds challenged.
Political and social commentator, Carlon Knight also believes Michael acted inappropriately, noting that there are already outlined procedures through which matters pertaining to an adjudicator can be addressed.
“Those procedures, I think, should be done through your counsel and not through you as the individual…,” he said. Knight said the MP’s actions were “unacceptable” and amounts to “both political intimidation and indeed an interference int the judicial process”.