Klansman trial bill $60.5m so far
Cost will mount with addition of defence attorneys' fees
Police on duty outside the Supreme Court in downtown Kingston at the start of the Klansman trial in September 2021. (Photo: Garfield Robinson)

THE mother of all gang trials, which saw 33 individuals said to be members of the Klansman Gang being interrogated by the head of the judiciary over 18 months, cost the State approximately $60.5 million for technical support, a figure which is expected to mount when the legal fees of the 38 defence attorneys who were engaged are added.

Figures obtained from the Court Administrative Division (CAD), which is the support arm for the judiciary and the courts, showed that a total $60,479,879.93 was paid to event planning and execution outfit, Main Event Entertainment Group, for the leasing of audio visual equipment for the trial.

The firm, which was contracted from September 2021 when the trial began at the Supreme Court in downtown Kingston, had an initial March 19, 2022 end date. The arrangement was, however, extended twice — first to September 16, 2022 and then to March 15, 2023. The long-running trial which began with 33 defendants experienced several hiccups over the duration, suffering several premature adjournments due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and other issues.

The Crown's two main witnesses, both former gang members-turned-informants, spent months testifying from a remote location via video link. The matter, which was the largest-ever gang trial to be held in Jamaica and the Caribbean, engaged two of the largest courtrooms at the facility, making it so that additional audiovisual capacity was required for the judge-alone matter.

Records obtained by the Jamaica Observer showed a total of 18 payments of $3,359,993.33 each made to Main Event over the trial period. The CAD, in the meantime, said the amounts paid to the defence attorneys who were assigned by the Legal Aid Council are being collated. That sum, however, might be far from what was paid out in the other two gang trials which pre-dated the Klansman matter, the Observer has learnt.

The Uchence Wilson gang trial ended in October 2020 after proceeding intermittently for 19 months, and carried a pay bill of $55.3 million. That matter began with 24 accused initially facing the court but saw 15 subsequently being acquitted.

In the case of the King Valley gang, that trial lasted for six months and saw the 14 attorneys being paid $10.5 million.

At the start of the Klansman trial, senior attorney Lloyd McFarlane, who was lead counsel for convicted gang leader Andre "Blackman" Bryan, had appealed for a review of the sums being paid to the attorneys assigned by the Legal Aid Council.

Addressing the court after the prosecution had concluded its opening, McFarlane said he had been asked to indicate, on behalf of his peers, that the issue was far from settled. He said that while the attorneys had taken the decision to proceed, "there is still something that is not yet truly satisfied".

McFarlane said while he was aware that the matter was not within Chief Justice Bryan Sykes's "jurisdiction" the defence attorneys felt pressed to "indicate for the records".

"We have months ahead of us, and we still believe that there should be some further review in terms of what is being offered," the attorney stated then.

On Tuesday, one other senior attorney who had been engaged in the matter told the Observer that if the fees paid out in the matter were anything to go by, lawyers going forward will be less than interested in taking on gang cases.

"They paid us per day, so even if an entire month goes by while the trial was going on, if court only sits for two days they paid us for the days. The daily figure was $10,000. We were only paid when we turned up to court; there was no consideration for out-of-court preparations," the attorney said.

"One thing I know for sure, lawyers won't be interested in doing gang matters because it is State-funded," he said, adding that the remuneration from this trial was "significantly less" and was "lower than what was received for other gang trials".

The attorney, who said some claims were still being processed for attorneys who were involved in the matter, noted that remuneration made in earlier gang trials had been better.

"In Uchence we were getting like $400,000 monthly. King Valley wasn't less than Uchence, it was roughly the same, but for Klansman it was different because it was prorated," he told the Observer.

On Tuesday, March 8 this year Chief Justice Sykes, who tried the matter alone, brought the curtains down on the case, handing out the last of the verdicts which saw the 15 individuals, inclusive of one woman, being convicted and 17 being acquitted. The 15 will be sentenced, starting July 3 this year, the nearly three-month bridge being allowed to enable the collection of social enquiry reports and antecedent reports for the convicted individuals, which are required for the sentencing procedure.

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

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