On the morning of September 6, the day of the highly anticipated Cabinet reshuffle, another drama was being played out in the High Court in Port of Spain.
It was there before Justice Prakash Moosai that criminal attorney Wayne Sturge said that “a position was being offered” to him by the Prime Minister, and indicated that it was possibly the last time he was going to be addressing the court.
By 4 p.m. that day, there was no evidence that Sturge, a former UNC senator, was among the line-up of new faces announced by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar to her cabinet.
The jury is still out on exactly what transpired in the hours between Sturge’s disclosure to the court and the PM’s announcement of the reshuffle but Sturge is now insisting that he didn’t really want the position he was being offered.
He said he could not live on a government minister’s salary.
He claimed he had heard reports that Legal Affairs Minister Prakash Ramadhar, with whom he shared a history that could be described as somewhat sour, had objected to him being made a minister.
Sturge said he had no reason to believe reports that the Congress of the People (COP) leader had lobbied the Prime Minister against his appointment to the Cabinet.
Ramadhar, up to last week, held the post of acting Prime Minister, while Persad-Bissessar addressed the United Nations General Assembly in New York.
When the Sunday Express asked Ramadhar two weeks ago about the reports, he was clear in his response, “I cannot comment on any conversation that I would have had with the Prime Minister.”
The COP is the second largest partner in the People’s Partnership and was consulted prior to the government’s third major reshuffle on September 6.
Top legal sources told the Sunday Express that on the morning of September 6, while in court, Sturge seemed to be on board with the cabinet posting since he told the court that this was a very emotional time for him, and that it was possibly the last time he would be addressing a jury for a long time.
Later that morning, legal sources said Sturge joked about whether “he” would be assuming the Ministry of National Security or Attorney General or Legal Affairs, and joked about making bets on it.
Sturge did not confirm his statements in the court when the Sunday Express spoke with him about two weeks ago, saying only that the newspaper could not be quoting from any “proof read” court transcript.
He further advised, “When you do come upon the certified and authenticated transcript be sure to highlight the words said to the jury, ‘I am joking, I’m not serious.’”
He however confirmed that he did tell Justice Moosai, in the absence of the jury, that “a position was being offered and that I would make every effort to decline”.
But he maintained: “I can say without fear of contradiction that we had never gotten to the point of acceptance.”
He told the Sunday Express he had “63 clients awaiting trial for murder and over $2 million fees that would have to be returned if I had accepted any ministerial portfolio”.
In seeking to demystify the issue, Sturge explained: “I can confirm that I was approached to take up the appointment of Minister of Justice (a post now held by former minister of National Security Emmanuel George).
I have heard from people in the media that Mr Ramadhar objected to my appointment.
I have also been told by media personnel that the reason for the objection (assuming there was an objection) involved an ongoing feud between Mr Ramadhar and I, and a belief held by him that I was in some way responsible for a story which appeared in the print media some time ago which touched and concerned a businessman charged with capital murder who was once represented by Ramadhar and is now being represented by me,” Sturge said.
Sturge said he wanted to make it clear, “that neither the Prime Minister nor any other Government Minister informed me of Ramadhar’s objections if indeed he objected”.
“Although there was an offer we had never gotten to the point of acceptance,” he added.
Furthermore, he pointed out: “I simply cannot live on a ministerial salary at this time and this is the reason why we never arrived at the point of acceptance.”
As to claims of a past feud between both attorneys, Sunday Express checks showed that this may have been linked to an issue dating back to 2009, but which surfaced last year, when a former client of Ramadhar, charged with murder, sought to recover some $400,000 in fees he had paid to Ramadhar prior to his appointment as Minister of Legal Affairs.
Ramadhar’s former client was jointly charged with three others for a December 2009 murder.
In 2011, the men were committed to stand trial.
Ramadhar’s client felt he had not been properly represented and had filed a complaint against Ramadhar with the Disciplinary Committee at the Ministry of Justice.
The aggrieved client had also written to the Prime Minister in July 2011, and July 29, 2012 to intervene in the fee redress situation. Ramadhar was elected a minister of government following the May 2010 general elections and had withdrawn from the case.
In explaining the issue, Sturge said, “The businessman (former client of Ramadhar) was referred to me by a colleague and seconded by someone in the Judiciary approximately two to three months after the story about Mr Ramadhar and his former client appeared in the media.
I did not know of the client or his plight before and had no input or involvement in the story which appeared in the print media. If indeed Mr Ramadhar objected on the basis that I was somehow connected to the story which may have caused him some embarrassment then this is unfortunate.”
When the Sunday Express asked Ramadhar about two weeks ago, if he had in fact blocked Sturge’s appointment over the fees issue, Ramadhar responded, “What?! I am a stranger to this.”
Sturge also made reference to a fallout in another case in 2007.
“On the issue of whether there is an existing feud between Mr Ramadhar and I which is said to have arisen in the ‘Bayside Towers’ cocaine trial of 2007, my short answer is that if there was a difference of opinion, that would have been just over six years ago and such differences of opinion are normal in trials involving multiple accused and although they may assume exaggerated proportions during trial, such issues from my experience dissipate rather quickly once the trial is at an end.”