Lawyer gets another scolding from chief justice

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Lawyer gets another scolding from chief justice

BY ALICIA DUNKLEY-WILLIS
Senior staff reporter
dunkleywillisa@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

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DEFENCE attorney Everton Bird, for the third time in a week, attracted the ire of Chief Justice Bryan Sykes – the sitting judge in the trial of eight alleged members of the Westmoreland-based King Valley gang who are now before the court.

The eight — Carlington Godfrey, alias Tommy; Lindell Powell, alias Lazarus; Rannaldo McKennis, otherwise know as Ratty; Derval Williams, also called Lukie; Hopeton Sankey, alias Bigga; Christon Grant, alias Ecoy; Copeland Sankey, also known as Tupac; and Sean Suckra, also called Elder — are accused of conspiring to commit murder, rape and robbery with aggravation from as early as 2013.

Bird is the attorney representing Hopeton Sankey and Copeland Sankey in the trial now before the Home Circuit Court in downtown Kingston.

Defence lawyers on Monday began cross-examination of the star witness, who began testifying last Tuesday by live video link from a remote location. Bird showed up on Friday for the first time during the trial, after having submitted two medical certificates to the court and a letter explaining his absence last week. Justice Sykes, at the time, classified Bird's approach as “out of order behaviour”, noting that the attorney had not acted in the manner prescribed by the court where such matters were concerned.

Bird, who was yesterday the fifth in line to cross-examine the witness on behalf of his clients rose only to indicate that he was not prepared to conduct the exercise due to his absence from the trial in the earlier stages. “I'm in a difficult position to start my cross-examination at this time. I had requested the notes of evidence from the time the trial started,” Bird told the court, adding that he was told the notes were not yet available.

That admission earned him a sharp rebuke from Justice Sykes, who then chastised members of the legal profession for attempting to force trials to adjourn prematurely by deliberately absenting themselves when matters begin before the courts. He warned that as long as he was the judge in question such practices will not succeed.

“I am not moved, really, in the slightest. The responsibility of counsel is, if you can't be here you are to make provision for your client – and that includes the recording of the evidence. Tell me that the canons don't say that where counsel cannot be present he should not make suitable provision for the representation of his client,” the chief justice challenged further.

“Mr Bird, it is a new day and age. The time of bad practices have come to an end. The idea that an adjournment can be precipitated by the absence of counsel is over,” Justice Sykes said.

Bird, who then requested to be placed at the bottom of the list for cross-examination, said, “At the time of the beginning of the matter I was in a position where I was not able to address the issues.” The attorney said he spoke to counsel about assistance but was told they could not assist because they could not devote that length of time.

“I have never been in this position for as long as I have been at the bar; I've always been shipshape and ready to go. All I am asking is that you put me down at the bottom of the list,” he added.

“That is possible,” Justice Sykes said, in granting the request.

But following on the adjournment, which was to allow the attorney to recover the ground lost, not much changed.

One of Bird's clients, Hopeton Sankey, was observed moving from his assigned place in the dock when the court resumed some minutes after 2:00 pm to confer with the attorney, who scribbled on a yellow note pad. In moving away from Bird to return to his spot Justice Sykes spotted the moving man and issued a reprimand.

“Hold on, why is there movement in the dock? This is a criminal court. There is to be no movement of defendants in the dock unless I say so. Where do you get these ideas?” Justice Sykes asked. He then enquired of the police officer manning the dock why he allowed the prisoner to be moving about so freely. Sankey, in a barely audible response, indicated to the fuming judge that he had moved because his lawyer wanted to consult with him.

Said Justice Sykes: “This is not your lawyer's court. It is the judge's court.”

In the solemn hush that followed, Bird then indicated that he was continuing his cross-examination on behalf of his client Hopeton Sankey.

“I'm suggesting to you that the person you referred to as Tupac, you did not have good relations with him. I suggest to you that Mr Hopeton Sankey ceased to reside in King Valley eight years ago,” Bird said. He then suggested to the witness that Hopeton Sankey was not a hitman or gang member but was instead a cabinet maker who worked most weekdays, sometimes working well into the night “when the work was heavy”. He added that his client left King Valley in 2011 to live with his girlfriend in another district.

“You are confusing me right now. Which one are you talking? There are two Sankeys. I know them by their aliases; be specific,” the witness responded. Tupac is the alias of Copeland Sankey, not Hopeton.

For the second time in one day the attorney again found himself at the mercy of the judge.

Said Justice Sykes: “Mr Bird, why are you using the [birth names of the accused that] the witness is not familiar with? Don't be smart with me now. The witness has used a particular set of names to identify the men. Why are you using names the witness has not used? Don't do that, please, Mr Bird.”

“I am trying to understand what your Lordship is saying,” Bird responded.

Justice Sykes: “Don't try to confuse the issue of identification deliberately by using these names [birth names instead of the aliases which the witness is more familiar with]… What you are seeking to do is confuse the issues; you seem to think I got here overnight. I have been in the criminal court long enough…don't try that…don't do that, I am on to it now.”

Bird: “No me, Lord; I have no such motives.” He then asked permission to speak with his other client.

Returning to the bench after conferring with his client Copeland Sankey to clarify, he said, “This question I am asking you is in relation to Bigga”, before going on to put to the witness that Bigga was a regular citizen and even visited his grandmother regularly to “help her tie out her goats”.

“His granny nuh have no goat,” the witness shot back, smiling and shaking his head, seemingly bewildered, to the amusement of the courtroom.

Bird, after a few more phrases, indicated that he had finished his cross-examination, eliciting this response from Justice Sykes: “What about Tupac? You had indicated that the questions you were asking were about Bigga.”

Bird: “Yes, me Lord; I do have difficulty with Tupac which I was not able to overcome.” The attorney said he would need to “investigate” further, matters which were mentioned during the trial relating to his client.

Said Justice Sykes: “Very well, Mr Bird. You have all of 24 hours beginning now. So we are going to take the adjournment now and we resume at 2:00 pm tomorrow. So you have the rest of this evening, all of tomorrow morning and part of the afternoon.”

“Much obliged,” Bird responded.


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