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Robinson rejects Hutchinson's demands for apology, retraction, $25m in damages

Tuesday, August 04, 2020

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People's National Party (PNP) General Secretary Julian Robinson has strongly rejected a demand for $25 million in damages from JC Hutchinson in relation to a press release issued by Robinson on behalf of the party on the Holland land divestment deal last month.

In a letter to Robinson dated July 27, Hutchinson's attorneys said their client was also demanding an apology and retraction of the statement published in The Gleaner, which, they say, is highly defamatory. Hutchinson has threatened to take Robinson to court if the matter is not settled within a week.

Hutchinson's lawyers pointed to statements in the article which they described as “highly defamatory” of their client as they made allegations involving Lola Marshall-Williams, the mother of Hutchinson's child.

“We wish to advise you that Lola Marshall-Williams was indeed a common-law partner to our client, however they have been separated since 2011 and have not been living together since. Though they both reside at the same house, they are not living together,” Hutchison's lawyers said.

They also said that Hutchinson has no in-depth knowledge of Marshall-Williams's business operations or that of his son, Jason Hutchinson, and “has not enquired of same from them”.

News emerged last month that Hutchinson had written the Sugar Company of Jamaica Holdings Limited instructing it to move speedily to give control of the 2,400-acre Holland Estate to a company in which Marshall-Williams was a director.

Hutchinson has denied giving any such instructions.

However, the prime minister stripped him of his position as minister without portfolio in the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture, and Fisheries and reassigned him to the Office of the Prime Minister.

Hutchinson's lawyers said his only interest was “for the small farmers who have been historically sidelined in the agricultural sector to be able to benefit from having access to the said lands”.

They also argued that Holland Producers Limited (HPL) has consistently made losses; is owed by some of the farmers to whom it subleased the lands; and that all the funds received by the company had been spent on security, utilities, removal of stray animals, and fencing the property.

“Simply put, there cannot be any benefit to either Lola Marshall-Williams and, by extension, our client, from a company that is making a consistent loss,” the attorneys stated.

However, Robinson's attorneys, in dismissing the claims, said the “contents of the release are true or are not materially different from the truth”.

They also said the release included matters and expressions of opinions on matters of public concern that were already in the public domain. “Some of the matters mentioned, though initially denied by your client, were subsequently either admitted by him or otherwise proven to be true,” Robinson's attorneys said, adding that Hutchinson had not denied or refuted assertions in the release.

“Whether or not your client is separated from Lola Marshall-Williams, the fact remains that as the mother of his son she is a connected person to him, as is his son. It is also irrelevant whether your client has in-depth knowledge of Ms Marshall-Williams's and his son's business operations, although the contents of your letter suggest that he does have knowledge of the financial performance and operations of Holland Producers Limited,” the lawyers said.

They also said it was instructive that in a statement issued by the prime minister concerning Hutchinson's actions in the same matter, the prime minister referred to land transactions involving the Sugar Corporation of Jamaica and parties connected to the minister without portfolio in the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries.

“In that statement, the prime minister also said, in relation to the said transactions, that 'there were clear breaches of established procedures in implementation to provide for transparency, competition and disclosure',” Robinson's attorneys responded. They also pointed out that Hutchinson had issued an apology to the people of Jamaica, “for my errors of judgement”, and had further stated “I was wrong. The course of action I chose cannot be defended”.

Said the lawyers: “The prime minister's statement and your client's apology clearly confirm that your client was involved in actions that were wrong, as intimated in the press release.”

“We firmly maintain that our client has not in any way caused damage to your client's reputation by the publication of the press release or otherwise. We would posit that any such damage would have been occasioned by your client's actions for which he issued the apology,” Robinson's attorneys said.

“We therefore, on behalf of our client, strongly reject your demand for an apology, a retraction and the payment of damages. Be assured that if you should seek to take this matter any further, our client will vigorously defend any such action and he will not be deterred in discharging his duties as a legislator to ensure that good governance prevails in Jamaica,” the attorneys added.


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