BELIZE CITY, Wed. May 27, 2015–Journalists from various Belize City media organizations waited near the entrance to the courtroom of Supreme Court Justice Courtney Abel for the arrival of an unusual defendant in a contempt of court hearing that was scheduled to occur this morning.
All cameras were focused on the attorney Audrey Matura-Shepherd as she ascended the steps of the court, dressed in her courtroom garb.
The contempt of court hearing against Matura-Shepherd, however, was adjourned because Justice Abel was out of the country.
Matura-Shepherd, who has never shied away from granting an interview to reporters, this morning declined to comment on the specifics of the contempt of court case against her, which has been adjourned to early July.
What is known, however, is that the Government of Belize is being represented by one of its attorneys from the law firm of Barrow and Williams.
The allegations against Matura stem from an interview Matura-Shepherd had granted reporters in February, after a settlement was reached in mediation between Matura-Shepherd’s client, Belize Grassroots Youth Empowerment Association (BGYEA) and the government over a case that the government had brought against BGYEA in an injunction to stop the organization from planting corn in the buffer zone of the Harmonyville community.
Matura-Shepherd’s interview, it is being alleged, violated the confidentiality clause of the negotiated settlement, hence the contempt of court proceedings against her have been filed by attorney Julie-Ann Ellis-Bradley, of the Barrow and Williams law firm, who represented the government in the mediation that led to the settlement.
Amandala has been reliably informed that Bradley is urging the court to cite Matura-Shepherd for contempt and has also requested that the court order her (Matura-Shepherd) to pay the costs of the proceeding.
To get the contempt proceedings underway, Bradley has secured an affidavit from Commissioner of Lands Wilbert Vallejos, in which he complained about the breach of confidentiality of the mediation process.
Vallejos’ affidavit also made reference to published comments Matura-Shepherd made in her Amandala column. Matura-Shepherd, however, did not disclose the details of the negotiated settlement in her column. The column only questioned how much of taxpayers’ dollars had been used to pay the Barrow and Williams law firm. The column also questioned why Bradley was hired to represent the government when the Deputy Solicitor General Nigel Hawke was also representing the government on the same case.
Contempt of court is a very serious matter and with the exception of two journalists, the late Odinga Lumumba and Cyril Davis, who were sentenced to prison time, it is an offense that is rarely committed.
In the case of Lumumba, he had made an allegation against a Supreme Court judge and when he was asked to apologize, or face a prison sentence, Lumumba chose to go to prison rather than apologize for what he had written and published.
Among the comments that Matura-Shepherd made to reporters when she exited the courtroom where the agreement was reached was, “Well, I can give the specifics because we’ve signed off on it. Basically, Government has asked that BGYEA acknowledge that Government is the owner of the buffer, and we have no problem with that. So, from now as always, the Government holds it in trust for the people – that’s why it is called Crown land. They ask that they accept that, and I don’t think that BGYEA ever had a problem with that. They had a problem that while you may be legally the owner, you gave us the equitable right to co-manage it as trustees and then you went back against that. So, we’ve agreed on that point.”