Judge halts ATL pension trial to cool tempers

Judge halts ATL pension trial to cool tempers

BY DESMOND ALLEN Executive Editor Special Assignment allend@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

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IN a rare move, a senior magistrate yesterday brought the ATL pension fraud trial to a sudden but brief halt, apparently to allow for a cooling-off period as defence lawyer K D Knight, QC, robustly cross-examined a careful witness.

"I'll adjourn for a few minutes," said a grim-faced Senior Resident Magistrate Lorna Shelly-Williams, appearing close to the brink of losing her cool for the first time in the long and tedious trial under way in the Corporate Area Resident Magistrate's Court,

The magistrate had been trying to break up crosstalk between Knight and prosecution witness, attorney Trevor Patterson. As Knight continued, his voice raised, seeming to drown out the frequent "one minute" request from Shelly-Williams, she took the adjournment, leaving the defence team looking flabbergasted.

On his way out of the courtroom, Knight muttered something under his breath and fellow defence lawyer, Debra Martin, quickly handed him a sweet, which seemed to calm him down.

Also mumbling inaudibly, defence team member Katherine Phipps, half of the father-daughter duo with the legendary Frank Phipps on the team, said aloud: "Let me not say anything because the next thing you see it in the Observer!"

It was a long, slow day marked by tedium in courtroom number four where the ATL Pension fraud trial started in April this year. Three former executives of ATL sat sad-faced, almost motionless in the dock, watching as Knight plodded through his cross-examination of Patterson. They are Patrick Lynch, former chairman of the pension fund; Catherine Barber, former general manager; and Dr Jeffery Pyne, former managing director of Gorstew Limited, the holding company for ATL Chairman Gordon 'Butch' Stewart's companies.

The ex-executives are charged with forging four letters claiming consent for the distribution of $1.7 billion of pension fund surplus, from which they benefited in payments to their pension accounts.

Knight spent a lengthy period jabbing away at Stewart who has not yet appeared at the trial as a witness, for wanting a reversal of fund surplus under Lynch's stewardship.

Earlier in his testimony, Patterson recounted that Stewart had declared, after finding out about the unauthorised distribution, that he had set up the pension fund because "he did not want any of his former employees to see him on the road and have to beg him money", and that he was concerned that the pensioners were being hit by soaring inflation and a devaluing dollar.

Stewart had feared that the fund could be compromised, but in a subsequent internal memo to staff said he was relieved that all was well with the pension fund.

Yesterday's day-long hearing went well beyond the expected schedule, forcing the magistrate to push back two key witnesses who were scheduled to be heard in the afternoon. In an attempt to move the trial forward, Shelly-Williams had declared earlier in the day that the court would sit until Patterson's cross-examination had been completed. But Knight went on longer than hoped. The attorney ended at 4:00 pm, the time the session usually ends.

With Martin picking up where Knight left off, the magistrate brought the session to a close at 4:37 pm, noting: "I've never seen a bunch of lawyers so literally wilting in front of me. We'll continue Thursday (tomorrow) morning at 10 o' clock."

There was visible relief across the courtroom.

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