BEIJING—For the world’s best sprinters, passing the baton in the 4x400 relay is about as easy as rolling out of bed in the morning.
Picking a winner in that race used to be easy, too.
A lawyer who has been involved in several recent prison abuse cases claims media reports have unfairly linked him to an unethical business venture against the State. Attorney Gerald Ramdeen yesterday broke his silence on the issue, saying he has nothing to hide. His comments came even as Attorney General Anand Ramlogan is set to commence his stakeholder consultations on the controversial prison litigation issue.
On Monday, Ramlogan announced that the consultations had been postponed until further notice as a result of the murder of Senior Counsel Dana Seetahal. The consultations were ordered by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar after former solicitor general Eleanor Donaldson-Honeywell said recently that she expected a probe into her claims should continue.
Donaldson-Honeywell, in a latter to Persad-Bissessar last August, had claimed there was an unethical business venture being conducted within the Office of the Attorney General but noted that it was being done by external attorneys. Speaking at a press conference at the Hyatt Regency, Port-of-Spain, yesterday, Ramdeen, said he had been observing media coverage on the issue since last March in which his name was used.
“It is after much trepidation, reflection and great reluctance that I am compelled to hold this press conference today but it has become necessary for me to do so in order that I may clear my name and provide clarification of all that has been said in the public domain,” Ramdeen said.
He said during his 14-year career he had appeared in more than 200 assault and battery cases involving prisoners. He said he continues to take such cases because he feels the prison system is “severely compromised and challenged” in terms of human rights and respect for prisoners. “In many ways, the system is constituted in a way that does not give the prisoner a second chance at being a law-abiding citizen and leading an honest life.
“Instead, the system forces the prisoner into a prison culture that intentionally extinguishes any dream or prospect of that second chance,” Ramdeen said.
Ready to defend name
Ramdeen said the reports which named him failed to consider the lawsuits in which he was successful in obtaining compensation for abused prisoners and instead focused on three in which prisoners lost their claim. “I am amazed that the focus has thus far been on the minority of cases that prisoners have lost, as opposed to the debilitating and inhumane conditions and practices that exist in our prison today, which forces all in the system to be a victim,” he said.
He also noted that since the start his extensive legal career, the Office of the AG had been settling and losing prison cases, a fact which he said was confirmed by former attorney general Bridget Annisette-George in an interview with the media on Monday. “In fact, 71 per cent of High Court cases between November 2005 and May 31, 2012, resulted in findings of abuse by agents of the State,” he said.
Commenting on the High Court case of his client Jamal Sambury, which has been refered to the disciplinary committee of the Law Association, Ramdeen welcomed the referal, saying he was ready to defend his reputation and character. “I have nothing to hide and would vigorously defend my good name against allegations, both public and private,” he said. He also pleaded with media personnel to refrain from publishing “prejudicial, biased and damaging” stories while the issue was being determined.
When asked by reporters to comment on allegations of “copy and pasting” in witness statements in prisoner abuse cases, Ramdeen refused to comment, citing the committee’s pending investigation. However, his colleague Wayne Sturge, who also spoke, said: “I don’t know any attorney who types up a document from scratch. If there are precedents, you start by using your precedents and you delete and add as you see fit,” Sturge said.
He said this was a normal practice for attorneys who wished to save on time and meet deadlines.
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