Highlights — 28 July 2015 — by Rowland A. Parks
Libel case against Monchi, Fiesta FM faltering

BELIZE CITY, Fri. July 24, 2015–Today marks the second day that attorneys in the libel/slander case that Deputy Prime Minister Gasper “Gapi” Vega filed against Ramon “Monchi” Cervantes, his political opponent, and Fiesta FM, have been slugging it out in the Supreme Court of Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin.

Outside the court there were more than a hundred supporters of Vega, who were bused in and who waited in the burning heat, oblivious to what was transpiring inside the courtroom, where Vega’s attorney, Rodwell Williams, SC, the Prime Minister’s law partner, was presenting his client’s case.

They did not know, in fact, that Williams had run into a legal gridlock.

Most of the hearing in the morning was spent with Williams making a submission in an attempt to persuade the Chief Justice that Kelly Guzman, the person who had translated the broadcast telephone conversation (which reportedly contained libelous statements) from Spanish to English, should be called as a witness for the claimant, Vega.

Williams’ submission however, was met with heavy artillery from Cervantes’ attorney, Said Musa, SC, the former two-term PUP Prime Minister, and the Briceño family’s Fiesta FM’s attorney, Eamon Courtenay, SC.

Courtenay argued that he wanted to “see where my learned friend was going with his submission.”

“There is not an iota of evidence before this court explaining why the rule of this court has been ignored and disobeyed,” Courtenay told the court.

On 21 November, 2014, Kelly Guzman signed two statutory declarations, and on February 10, 2015, the court held a case management conference, Courtenay explained.

On March 5, 2015, the claimant made formal disclosure of the statutory declarations. Witness statements were supposed to be in by March 27.

“No witness statement from Kelly Guzman was filed, and no application was made for an extension of time,” Courtenay said.

“On June 16, the claimant was notified that objection would be taken to the statutory declaration of Ms. Guzman.

“On June 25, the claimant served notice to rely on the statutory declaration of Ms. Guzman, without calling her as a witness and without a witness statement,” said Courtenay

The Fiesta FM attorney submitted that his client did not broadcast the words to which the claimant’s complaint referred.

“There is an absence of evidence against a factual background. We make a fundamental point: The translation of Ms. Guzman is not evidence.

“The evidence is what is on some CDs in Spanish. The court is in English, but the translation is not evidence. We cannot over-emphasize what happened yesterday. This court admitted a CD that was handed to the claimant by Love FM, who is not a party to this case,” Courtenay told the court.

 “The claimant admitted that he does not have any recording by Fiesta. The translation of Ms. Guzman is irrelevant. The claimant requires evidence to succeed, and that evidence must be compelling. The application as moved is procedurally flawed. We respectfully ask the court to refuse the application,” Courtenay contended.

Williams rose to make another response and told the court that the judge had ruled yesterday to accept Ms. Guzman as a witness.

Chief Justice Benjamin, however, corrected him, saying, “No such ruling was made.”

The case was then adjourned to the afternoon session when Benjamin would make a ruling on the submissions to allow or not allow Guzman as a witness for the claimant.

Benjamin ruled against accepting Guzman as a witness and declared, “The defendant’s objection was based on the rules of the court.”

Williams continued with the presentation of his case, calling Hector Bobadilla, a driver who told the court that he heard the allegation made against Vega on a talk show.

Under cross-examination by Musa, Bobadilla said that he heard that Minister Vega was involved in the murder of Ramon Cervantes, Sr.

Bobadilla, however, could not tell the court at what time he heard the allegations against Vega.

When Courtenay asked him why he was in court, Bobadilla replied: “I am here because they are putting blame on the minister and he is not a person who is involved in crime.”

Courtenay suggested to Bobadilla that what he heard about the minister, he heard on Love FM, because Fiesta had technical difficulties on the day the broadcast was made.

“I heard it on Fiesta,” Bobadilla responded.

Following the hearing, the attorneys spoke to reporters.

Vega’s attorney, Williams, said, “The CD recorded in the Spanish language has been admitted into evidence of the recording of the taped conversation between Mr. Manuel Castillo and Mrs. Vilma Cervantes. That recording is in evidence on the CD, but it is in the Spanish language. As you know, the conversation is conducted in the Spanish language. The language of the Court is English. And our side, the claimants, did prepare its own translation and we felt since there was no question raised about the translation that we prepared, the transmission in Spanish and the translation in English which we prepared by our own interpreter, that it would save much time to in fact use it.”

Williams suggested that the CD that the court has would have to be played in Spanish and the official court interpreter would have to translate it.

Williams explained, “They may seek to challenge it, but that’s how the process works. My point is that it is in evidence, and it now needs to be translated because the language of the Court is English.”

Fiesta’s attorney, Courtenay explained, “What they attempted to do this morning was to call a witness who did a translation of the recording and that witness, the law says, that a witness has to give his or her statement – in this particular case from March 27. This witness did not. So on the day of trial they attempted to get the witness to then give a statement, and we objected. We objected firstly because they failed to comply with the rules.

“Secondly we objected because the CD that is in evidence is a recording from Love FM and not from Fiesta, and we submitted to the Court that a translation of a Love FM recording is irrelevant in a case against Fiesta.”

“It is our position that the claimant will not be allowed to play the recording in court. Mr. Williams says that he is going to make such an application. I would only describe it as a novel application and we look forward to seeing the law that would support that. I am not sure where he is going to find it,” Courtenay offered.

Gasper-Vega

When he was asked how the case for his client was faring, Musa, Cervantes’ attorney, replied: “I think it’s been going extremely well. The fundamentals of this case are the allegation that my client published or re-published a libelous article against Minister Vega and I’m yet to hear any evidence of that. As far as I’m aware, the case for the claimant is about to conclude and we’re still waiting for that kind of evidence, because there is none, and there will be none.”

Courtenay, on his behalf of his client, echoed a similar assessment: “We maintain that position. We will be calling our witnesses to establish that and so far, there is only one more witness for the claimant. No one has put in evidence any recording from Fiesta.”

Musa added, “Clearly, they won’t be able to prove any broadcast by Fiesta. They’re only relying on a tape from Love FM, which is not really evidence. It is totally irrelevant to this case, so I would think, speaking personally; of course we don’t want to prejudge anything, but Fiesta, as far as I am concerned, is definitely in the clear. I am comfortable with the way the case has gone.”

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