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State attorneys deny ‘unethical misconduct’

Thursday, May 1 2014

STATE attorneys say they are not guilty of ‘unethical misconduct’ as they sought to come out in their defence of allegations involving prison litigation.

In a statement yesterday, the Association of Law Officers of TT (ALOTT), which represents the interests of State attorneys appointed by the Judicial and Legal Service Commission within various ministries and government departments, said they noted with great concern media reports of possible unethical conduct of attorneys who appear for the State in certain matters.”

According to ALOTT, it was misleading that members of the public were being led to believe that the allegations involved State attorneys.

“It is incumbent on ALOTT to point out that there is a distinction to be drawn between attorneys at the Private Bar who are retained, on a case by case basis, by the State to appear in certain matters, referred to as “external counsel” and those who are employed permanently or under contract as State Attorneys in the various ministries .

“As far as ALOTT is aware no allegations of unethical conduct have been made against any of its members which consist of persons employed as State Attorneys,” the association said.

ALOTT also noted that this distinction was made clear in the recent media release of former Solicitor General (SG) Eleanor Donaldson-Honeywell in which she said there was no issue raised in her letter to the Prime Minister in August, 2013, as to wrongdoing on the part of attorneys working as employees within the offices of the Solicitor General and Chief State Solicitor.

“On the contrary, the issues to be investigated concerned whether external practices unfairly undermined their work in defending the state,” Donaldson-Honeywell said in her statement.

ALOTT also referred to the concerns raised by High Court Master Patricia Sobion-Awai who found that by lifting significant portions of court filings from previous litigation by prisoners making claims against the State, prison inmate Jamal Sambury sought to mislead the court as to his injuries and the actual circumstances of his assault and battery.

The group of State attorneys said the Master’s findings demonstrated that they continue to “perform admirably in an effort to protect the interests of the State and serve as guardian of the public purse.”

“This judgment illustrates that our members should be applauded rather than having their integrity and reputation brought into question. It should be highlighted that the State Attorneys who are being maligned as being “dishonest” and “in collusion” were the one’s who aggressively brought the unethical “cut and paste” practice to the attention of the Honourable Master Sobion-Awai. This matter was in fact a catalyst for the Solicitor General’s letter of 30th August, 2013 to the Honourable Prime Minister,” ALOTT said.

The association also noted with concern what they referred to as a “live issue concerning the settlement of claims” had now entered the public domain.

“This issue is completely unrelated to the issues raised in the Sambury case and in the aforesaid former Solicitor General’s letter,” ALOTT said, adding that the former SG raised in her letter to the Prime Minister concerns about lawyers acting for the State also representing prisoners as a conflict of interest.

“None of these issues can be even vaguely connected to any improper or unethical conduct on the part of State Attorneys . Nevertheless, we have no objection to any investigation into the settlement of matters,” ALOTT said. “The members of ALOTT assiduously strive to uphold their oath of office and therefore unequivocally eschew any conduct such as fraud, collusion or misrepresentation, which would severely undermine the trust and confidence reposed in our members by the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago,” the association added.

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