Lawyers representing the ousted T&T Football Association (TTFA) executive members are questioning whether the Court of Arbitration for Sports (CAS) is biased towards their clients in their ongoing challenge against Fifa.
Attorney Dr Emir Crowne, who is representing former TTFA president William Wallace and his executive team, claimed in a three-page letter sent to Antonio de Quesada, the head of arbitration at the Switzerland-based international court, yesterday.
In the letter, which was obtained by Guardian Media Sports, Crowne sought to raise a series of procedural issues, which allegedly occurred after the appeal was filed on April 6, and led them to question the institutional independence of CAS.
Crowne pointed out that while his clients requested a sole arbitrator due to financial constraints, Fifa suggested using three.
"By agreeing to the respondent's request, the CAS would have tripled the cost of the arbitration," Crowne said.
He also took issue with the fact that the CAS set the cost of the arbitration as 40,000 Swiss francs (TT$276,000), although it is expected to take place via video conferencing to save on travel expenses for the arbitration panel and the CAS counsel.
Stating that his clients received no breakdown of the "exorbitant fees", Crowne said: "To that end, we are genuinely unsure how the CAS facilitates access to justice with such extravagant fees. The appellants are not from the developed world, nor are they as well-financed as the respondent."
Crowne questioned the CAS's decision to require the executive members to pay for the full cost of the appeal based on a "general rule", under which Fifa does not pay half the costs, as required under Article 64.2 of its procedural rules.
Under the rule, if one party fails to pay its share and the other fails to cover the entire amount by the deadline set by the court, the appeal is automatically withdrawn.
"On its face, therefore, the CAS appears to be a willing participant in the respondent's gamesmanship, especially if the CAS has institutional knowledge that the respondent-an entity with immeasurable financial resources- would not be advancing their share of the arbitration costs, and especially since it was the respondent who asked that the matter be heard before a three-person panel thereby tripling the cost of the proceedings," Crowne said.
He described the alleged conduct as "at least an unacceptable display of apparent institutional bias".
Crowne also referred to the fact that Fifa wrote to the CAS seeking an extension of time to file its response to the appeal until after the fees are paid by the former TTFA executive team and noted that it (Fifa) was essentially given an automatic extension.
"To compound the perception of institutional bias, the letter from CAS informing the appellants of CAS' ruling, is the very same correspondence which informed the appellants that the respondent had made a request, meaning that the CAS had ruled without even giving the appellant the opportunity to be heard," Crowne said.
Crowne suggested that even if his clients had applied the CAS for legal aid, it would not remedy the bias that has allegedly already arisen.
"As it stands, there are very real doubts that the CAS remains an appropriate and fair forum for the resolution of this dispute," Crowne said.
Wallace and his three vice presidents — Clynt Taylor, Joseph Sam Phillips, and Susan Joseph-Warrick filed the appeal after they were removed by Fifa on March 17 and replaced by a normalisation committee headed by businessman Robert Hadad and comprises attorney Judy Daniel and retired banker Nigel Romano.
In their appeal, the former executive members are claiming that they were wrongfully removed by Fifa despite being lawfully elected to their positions in November, last year.
The former executive members' lawyers were recently locked in a legal war of words with TTFA's bankers First Citizens' Bank over control of the association's accounts.
They have established an account for donations to fund the appeal on the crowd-funding platform GoFundMe, which had amassed US$4,220, up to late yesterday. The deadline for payments is May 20.
The former executive is also being represented by Matthew Gayle.