Israeli Brothers Case Highlights Dysfunctional Bahamas Legal System
The widely reported legal dispute between two Israeli brothers is a perfect example of everything that is wrong with the Bahamas dysfunctional legal system. The case has been fraught with incompetence to the extent that it should probably be pulled from this jurisdiction, as it makes it obvious that The Bahamas is not capable of providing timely court proceedings.
The most recent chapter in this protracted mockery of justice involves Bahamian Justice Stephen Isaacs, who refuses to recuse himself despite allegations of bias and possible impropriety.
Isaacs says he will not recuse himself because the application for recusal is an attack on his integrity and the administration of justice. Quite the opposite, some look at his refusal to recuse himself as a lack of integrity and a stumbling block to the administration of justice.
Nicholas Lavender, QC, and attorney for Rami Weisfisch, 64, argued that Justice Isaacs had shown bias towards Rami’s younger brother, Amir Weissfisch, in a ruling on May 5th.
In his dismissal of the recusal application made by Rami, Justice Isaacs said he views it as “completely misguided and misconceived.”
“Allegations of bias, dishonesty, and procedural impropriety cannot be taken lightly,” the judge added.
He’s right, they should not be taken lightly.
The most recent problem apparently started during the May 5th hearing when Justice Isaacs described the application for recusal as “corrupt” and “sinister”.
Rami’s lawyer then requested the stenographer’s original notes of the hearing and the May 5 judgment, in addition to notes pertaining to the judge’s subsequent “clarification” of the judgement at a hearing on June 9th. Rami wants the original stenographer’s notes because he feels that the Judge ordered the transcript “sanitized” to remove his offending remarks and thereby eliminate grounds for recusal. All of Rami’s requests were denied.
In yesterday’s ruling against the recusal application, Justice Isaacs admitted that he had called the application “corrupt” but said that the words were taken “completely out of context.”
“I stated that the suggestion that I sanitized the record of June 9 was most offensive – and that allegation amounted to corruption on my part. Thereafter, I described the recusal application as corrupt, there being in my view nothing to ground the application on.”
Isaacs said that he rejected the application to produce the stenographer’s original notes on the basis that the court, and all the parties involved, rely on the official transcript for all purposes. He restated his position that the allowance of a party to move into court the accuracy of the official record is a full frontal attack on the administration of justice.
However, some view the refusal to produce the notes as an attack on the administration of justice. After all, the transcripts are in the public record and it would not be the first time that the accuracy of transcripts have come into question.
The case has been fraught with “difficulties”.
It started way back in 2006 when the two brothers got into a dispute over the proceeds of a metal trading business that operated between 1992 and 2000.
Rami was about to have life-threatening heart surgery and wanted to make sure that his family would be provided for if he died. So, Amir transferred some $88 million dollars to Rami and his daughter, as sort of a guarantee that Rami’s family would be looked after should Rami die. The agreement allegedly also specified that if Rami survived the surgery, he would repay Amir $37.5 million within three months, plus additional sums to be identified.
Rami survived. But Amir says that Rami failed to cough up the $37.5 million and was thus “wrongfully and in breach of the oral agreement”.
There were numerous attempts to reach a settlement but the relationship between the two brothers eventually descended into bitterness and even threats.
The case led directly to the resignation of one of The Bahamas’ highest profile Supreme Court Justices.
Senior Justice John Lyons was handling the case and to get to the bottom of the matter, he ordered a forensic accounting report. He had the court hire Darren Ferguson, who at the time was a relatively unknown accountant. Oddly, the report cost a whopping million dollars. Well, it turned out that Daniel the accountant was the brother of a “very close” female friend of Justice Lyons. When that information was made public, it resulted in Justice Lyons’ resignation. Some say Lyons, who otherwise was quite a good judge, was set up. They believe the woman was sent to seduce Lyons specifically to skew the case.
Next, was Justice Anita Allen.
During a hearing in Justice Allen’s chambers, presumably to discuss a newspaper article that had been written about the case, Justice Allen allegedly stated that she was “conflicted” over the case because of information that was known to her.
Oddly, no shorthand taker was present during the meeting and Rami Weissfisch’s lawyer, Nicholas Lavender, was the only person who took notes of what transpired.
But Allen Steinfeld, who represented Amir Weisfisch, and Justice Allen did not accept the accuracy of Lavender’s notes.
Due to the alleged comment, Justice Allen allegedly said she would be “happy to recuse myself”, but then retracted that statement and refused to recuse herself.
The matter went to the Appeal Court, where Court President Dame Joan Sawyer and Justices of Appeal Emmanuel Osadebay and Hartman Longley remarked that Justice Allen appeared to have pitted her “personal recollection” of what occurred in chambers “against Lavender’s notes.”
The Appeal Court justices said, “The learned judge stated that ‘after examining the recesses of [her] mind’ and ‘aided by the memory of [her] two clerks’ who were at that meeting, she came to the conclusion that she had not in fact said that she would be happy to recuse herself. The learned judge therefore concluded that Mr Lavender’s notes were inaccurate.”
It was noted that Justice Allen’s denial raised the issue of her own credibility and that of Lavender.
The Court found that in the absence of an objective record of what transpired in the judge’s chambers it was not able to say “that the fair-minded and informed observer would not have any doubt about the learned judge’s objectivity and we therefore hold that the learned judge ought to have recused herself from further hearing the matter.”
Hence, Justice Allen recused herself.
Next, Justice Jon Isaacs took the case. After a while, he “suddenly” realized that one of the brothers was a client of his wife’s office management firm. So, he recused himself.
And that led to Justice Stephen Isaacs taking the case.
All this nonsense and subterfuge proves that The Bahamas is one of the last places on earth to seek justice. The entire legal system is corrupt and dysfunctional.
From crooked lawyers and court clerks, to incompetent judges, to corrupt employees in the Attorney General’s office, justice in The Bahamas is elusive, and apparently only for the rich and the elite. And even they have a hard time occasionally, as the Weisfisch brothers can tell you.corruption, courts, financial, incompetence, lawyers