Cape Law Society President Speaks down
I refer to your formal request for the Society’s response to the “ethical and professional” issues raised in the report in noseWEEK 16 headed “When Lawyers Fall Out …” The same issue contains an article headed: “When the Accused Becomes the Judge” to which I also wish to respond.
1. “When Lawyers Fall Out … “: Your request gives no indication of any specific aspect of the Datnows/Sonnenbergs matter in respect of which you seek comment. The report deals with a dispute between members of the Society, which resulted in litigation. The litigation was settled, by agreement, two years ago. Neither the parties to the litigation nor any of their clients have lodged a complaint with the Society in respect of the subject matter of your report.
2(A). “When the Accused becomes the Judge”: You open by referring to the “now notorious, secret minute of the Cape Law Society’s meeting held in April 1995 …”. As you well know, the minute concerned the Disciplinary Committee of the Society and disciplinary proceedings are confidential. However, since October 1995, and at the instance of its members [but only after noseWEEK had exposed the scandalousness of the Society’s “secret affairs” – Ed.], the Society now publishes its rulings in respect of disciplinary matters where a fine in excess of R500 is imposed.
2(B). As far as the complaint against Susan Aird and her later appointment is concerned, the Messinger complaint was investigated some months before the Society advertised the post of Director. The Disciplinary Committee ruled that there was no unprofessional conduct. When applying for the position, Susan Aird made full disclosure of the complaint. Council was satisfied that the Messinger matter did not present an impediment to her appointment as a Director of the Society. Your imputation of her integrity is objectionable – the more so because it is constructed with the flimsiest of information.
The Law Society of the Cape of Good Hope
We have numbered the paragraphs of Mr Steyn’s letter for ease of reference, and comment as follows:
1. Mr Steyn feigns innocence of the real issues raised in our report. Sonnenbergs
handed into court a sworn statement (settled by one of the Cape Bar’s most senior advocates, Peter Hodes) in which they alleged (and one assumes that a responsible lawyer will not do so lightly) that a colleague, Beverley Datnow, had been “disengenuous” in an affidavit to court, that she had “raised ethics merely as a negotiating tactice”, that she had made statements to the court, under oath, that were “fraught with half-truths” or, even, “blatantly untruthful”. Maybe they settled their dispute for some suitable financial consideration, but what of the public’s interest in lawyers prepared to lie to court under oath? If Sonnenberg’s claims were false, then they are the perjurers – with, in addition, malicious intent to defame a colleague, no less.
And what of the deal the lawyers struck – in writing – agreeing to breach Ms Datnow’s clients’ right to confidentiality – in order to advance the greedy interests of Sonnenberg’s “insolvency division”?
If the President of the Cape Law Society thinks these matters should not concern his Society or us, then we have no hesitation in saying that he is the arse we previously only secretly suspected he might be.
2(A) The Disciplinary Committee acts in the name of, and with the authority of the Society. And the Law Society still chooses to conduct its disciplinary proceedings against members in secret, with not even the complainant allowed to be present. This seems to us to contravene some of the most basic tenets of justice, not to speak of that famous dictum: justice must be seen to be done without fear or favour.
2(B) The whole point of our story was that the Society apparently found nothing wrong with Ms Aird’s conduct and appointed her a director of the Society with full knowledge of it (as recorded in your own minutes). Readers may judge for themselves whether your official minutes constitute “flimsy information”.
Your letter is yet another demonstration that the organised legal profession’s interests should never be confused with the public interest. – Ed.
“How now, Mr Brink?”
The reference to Phillippe le Roux raises some curiosity for those UCT students in the early 1970s who remember him as a NUSAS leader and a so-called radical student who, when sought by the security police for a relatively minor offence, dramatically skipped over the Botswana border.
The later role he has played as a sanctions-busting agent of apartheid South Africa, the company he has kept and his other nefarious activities [while MD of UK motorbike manufacturer, Norton] of course raise questions about his bona fides as a student leader. Could his dramatic flight (on a motorbike nogal) have been rigged? Was he an elaborately set up, long-term “sleeping” plant of the State security agencies?
Shepstone & Wiley
I thoroughly enjoyed issue 17 – noseWEEK is one magazine that I read from cover to cover. However, on page 11, the article on Shepstone & Wiley ended in mid sentence!
Sorry, a computer glitch. We lost the last line, which should have read: “Judgement in the matter is still pending.” – Ed.
Denel & the TRC
With the recent resignation from Denel of Mr Johan Alberts in order for him to devote more quality time to his family, instead of to the boring daily routine of flogging old stocks of AK47’s, RPG’s etc, it crosses my mind that we have not heard a peep at the TRC from or about his predecessor, Mr Tielman de Waal, despite his having played an important role in the Total Onslaught.
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