Law Association president Seenath Jairam SC is not stepping down as president even as a bitter verbal battle is being played out publicly between Jairam and former attorney general Karl Hudson-Phillips, QC.
After a scathing rebuke from Hudson-Phillips for accepting a state brief last Thursday, Jairam yesterday lashed back with an equally stinging letter.
Jairam is neither stepping down as president of the Law Association, as he was called upon to do by Hudson-Phillips, nor does he believe there was anything "wrong" with him accepting a brief from the Ministry of Finance.
Yesterday, Jairam sought to clinically deal with the issues raised by Hudson-Phillips but questioned how personal correspondence exchanged between them reached the press.
In a reply to Jairam last night, which he also copied to the press, Hudson-Phillips insisted that Jairam's actions were "wrong" and refused to sympathise with him.
Last Thursday, Hudson-Phillips wrote to Jairam chastising him for accepting the CLICO brief from the Ministry of Finance along with junior counsels Joseph Toney and Jagdeo Singh after the Ministry fired former attorneys Fyard Hosein SC and Michael Quamina.
Jairam and Toney returned the brief on the same day.
And caught in the middle of the verbal barbs between the two senior members of the Bar is the council of the Law Association which held an emergency meeting last Friday, without Jairam or Hudson-Phillips to discuss the very public exchange.
The council, the Sunday Express learnt, is concerned with the public perception of the profession following last week's events. They're seeking a meeting with Jairam to account for his actions.
"If Mr Husdon-Phillips was serious, he should have filed a complaint with the disciplinary committee of the Law Association or called (Jairam) on the phone and spoken to him. It is quite simple, if a client doesn't complain, there is no conflict of interest with Jairam accepting the brief. But we need to hear from the president," a member of the council who did not want to be identified told the Sunday Express yesterday.
Jairam, in his eight-page reply to Hudson-Phillips' first letter, accused him of "egregious" conduct and of having an "insatiable craving for the limelight" as the letter meant for him found its way to the press "so as to enable you to obtain the fullest publicity of your vilification of my character and reputation by these unfounded and vile accusations against me; this was obviously your intention".
"Karl, you denigrated me and used me as a scapegoat despite our long and close relationship over the years to seize media coverage," wrote Jairam. See Page 11 for full letter.
He prefaced his letter by saying that he could not address him as "Dear Mamoo (Uncle) as he had done for over two decades because, "you are not deserving of such accolade or reverence as I cannot imagine my mother's brother would want to destroy his nephew as you are attempting to do to me".
Jairam said he never solicited Hudson-Phillips' support for the candidacy of the Law Association president and had merely called him in June as a courtesy.
With regard to the best traditions of the bar, Jairam said that Hudson-Phillips broke two rules in the Legal Profession Act of publicly chastising a member of the bar and treating with fairness and good faith.
"It is clear from your letter and your haste to go to the press before calling me that you were not acting in good faith and demonstrated a patent lack of courtesy and fairness," stated Jairam.
In dealing with the issue of professional conduct, Jairam produced correspondence which showed that he had communicated with Hosein twice and sought the attorney's interest in ensuring that their fees were paid before the resumption of the CLICO/Hindu Credit Union (HCU) Enquiry tomorrow.
Further, Jairam charged that Hudson-Phillips's comments about his meetings with the Farrell case involving CLICO which he had represented was "intrusive behaviour" which sought ammunition to "demean and denigrate me".
"You called Mr Farrell on the phone and questioned him about the conference to which you referred. That was highly unprofessional and unethical," he said.
In seeking to justify which Hudson-Phillips should not be permitted to "castigate" him, Jairam referred to a matter which the Queen's Counsel lost at the Privy Council because of "improper conduct".
"While you sought to berate, denigrate and belittle me by your letter, you demonstrated crass behaviour, not class, which is most unfortunate. As we get older, we should become gentler and wiser. Those are the hallmarks of a gentleman and a statesman," concluded Jairam.
However, Hudson-Phillips yesterday maintained that he had a duty which transcended friendship and personalities.
"Members of the legal profession and indeed all professions are under an obligation to report and expose serious deviations such as yours from proper professional standards. This is so regardless of the pain it may bring a colleague and indeed a friend. As president of the Law Association of Trinidad and Tobago you have the crushing responsibility to adhere to the highest standards of professional conduct. Your predecessor, Seetahal, learnt this in what must have been an embarrassing way," wrote Hudson-Phillips.
He insisted that Jairam missed the two issues of "serious infraction"—accepting a brief for which a colleague was formerly retained without enquiring the reasons for his losing the brief and the conflict of interest in having represented CLICO policyholders and now was on the other side of the fence.
"If no reasons were given to your colleague for removing him from the brief, you should have refused to accept the brief and not encouraged a client to dismiss a colleague without reason. Your first communication to Fyard Hosein was that you had already accepted the brief- wrong. Your letter to him after the fact seems to concentrate on the question of fees—this shows an unhealthy priority-fees-money—unless this was the prime motivation," wrote Hudson-Phillips.
Hudson-Phillips observed that Jairam's matter against the state on behalf of the policyholders appears not to have been concluded before he accepted the state brief.
"You must have realised that this was wrong otherwise there was no apparent reason for your returning the brief in that matter. I cannot congratulate you for returning the brief in the Farrell matter because one does not return a brief except for very good cause. Switching 'horses' to appear for the Minister of Finance was not a good cause. Nor can I join others in congratulating you in doing 'the right thing' (whatever that means in this context) for something you should never ever have done in the first place. That is twisted logic," he said.
Hudson-Phillips ended: "Your descent into vulgar personal vituperation is regretted and alien to this country in the Caribbean. We all need to band together to protect and defend moral and ethical standards in the legal profession and in Trinidad and Tobago. I wish you well."