UPDATE: KZN Bar brawl spreads the dirt

In a recent judgment suspending KwaZulu-Natal Advocate Penny Hunt for six months, for spying on her colleagues, the same judgement rebuked the KwaZulu-Natal Bar of Advocates for embarking on a dirty tricks campaign to destroy Hunt’s credibility.

The strike-off application was brought by the KZN Bar and heard in the Pietermaritzburg High Court. In a trial spanning 20 days over 18 months, many of the salacious details that spilled into the open in court, emanated from the Pietermaritzburg Bar. They included accounts of extra-marital affairs, swearing, drunkenness, backstabbing and a childish dispute over how many cups of tea the tea-lady was allowed to make for each staff member (See nose210).

Penny Hunt

Hunt is currently seeking the provincial judge president’s leave to appeal her six-month suspension, while the Bar has launched a cross-application to have Hunt’s suspension made permanent.

The judgment recounts that on 11 June 2010, at a farewell party for Judge Rob Griffiths, who had just been elevated to the bench, Hunt spilled a drink on the head of a drunken fellow advocate, Mergen Chetty. Chetty claimed Hunt had  deliberately poured it on his head. They had words, until Hunt’s husband, Cameron Hunt SC, a former amateur boxer and a regular for representing the South African Revenue Service, stepped in and “hit Chetty twice with a ï¬Âst”, who “fell to the floor and only regained consciousness after a few minutes”.

With a couple of loose teeth and a bruised ego, Chetty now wanted to sue Hunt SC. His wife Penny, rallying to her husband’s defence, hired private investigator Houston Impey to place a tracker on Chetty’s car and a listening device in the Bar adminstrator’s office “to get some dirt on him”. She wanted to prove that Chetty was a regular drunkard and that the Bar, in disciplining her husband for knocking out Chetty, should take this into account.

But then Hunt’s surveillance plot was reported by her former secretary, to Adrian Rall SC, chairman at the time of the Pietermaritzburg Bar.

PI Impey admitted to having installed the listening and tracking devices, but on Hunt’s instruction. The question the strike-out judges needed to answer was whether Impey was lying, as Hunt maintained. She claimed she had merely employed Impey to “sweep” her office, and had asked for Chetty to be followed to help clear her husband’s name.

“lmpey had no cause to install a listening device off his own bat. The same goes for the tracking device on Chetty’s car.

“[Penny Hunt’s] actions show a lack of judgment. The standard of her behaviour fell short of what is expected from an advocate [but] the conduct of the respondent does not show a flaw in her character [sufficient to] justify striking off,” read the judgment.

It said the “hostility of the Bar Council” to Hunt was evident when they accused her in public of theft of the Bar’s CCTV hard-drive, when “there was no substance in such charge”.

“The publicity resulted in serious and lasting damage to the respondent’s [Penny Hunt’s] reputation and practice. The conduct of the Pietermaritzburg Bar Council must be frowned upon by this court, because not only did it damage its own image, it also caused the evidence presented at this hearing to be muddied with irrelevant issues.”

However, it added that “it is beyond question” that Hunt “did not act in the manner expected from a member of the Bar”.

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