Today, in room 25 of the Port of Spain High Court, attorney Derek Ali took centre stage.
Ali must be a gambling man. This morning, he wagered the freedom of his client and Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation (TTFF) general secretary Richard Groden.
The media could not report on the drama first-hand. For the second successive hearing, Ali successfully petitioned Justice Devindra Rampersad to clear the room of reporters.
A short balding man with glasses, Ali scurries away from the court at the end of sessions with furtive glances at the media. He is curt with any questions.
At a glance, he could not be more different than Om Lalla, who preceded him as the TTFF’s lead counsel.
Ali accepted the TTFF’s brief in February 2012 after Justice Rampersad grew weary of Lalla’s double act as counsel for Warner and the football body.
Eventually, the two men may have to line up against each other in court and it should be a curious contest for several reasons; not least because the TTFF clearly does not want to sue Lalla’s client and its former special advisor Jack Warner.
Articulate and charming, Lalla seems tailor-made for the spotlight. He walks like a man who has the winning lottery ticket in his back pocket and speaks with the assurance of someone accustomed to captive audiences.
Ali, on the other hand, seems to continuously flit between anxious and puzzled with occasional sightings of belligerence. He is a man who never uses 10 words if he can find 100 to convey the same message.
If Lalla enjoys the sound of his own voice, Ali seems to be always searching for the right line.
But, so far, both men have appeared equally adept at navigating the fine line between avoiding meaningful action against a powerful local politician and pushing a High Court Judge too far. Or maybe they are testing Justice Rampersad’s patience and trying to provoke an error born of frustration.
Lalla was once late in meeting an interim payment to the players because he thought the order was for $1.2 million in local currency and not US dollars.
One could almost picture Lalla, armed as always with that half-smile, rolling his eyes in exasperation at himself.
“An honest mistake, your Honour…”
This morning, Ali claimed that, after serving Warner with a pre-action protocol letter, he was so flabbergasted at what amounted to a threatened counter suit by the Chaguanas West MP—represented, of course, by Lalla—that he forgot everything learnt in law school and has to seek out advice from “silk.”
Quite what a Warner suit had to do with procuring accounting books for the players remains a mystery buried under a meandering speech and hundreds of unnecessary words.
Groden sat in the court room looking on with TTFF interim president Lennox Watson and treasurer Rudi Thomas for company.
If Ali failed to convince, Groden might have been marched straight to a cell for contempt.
Last September, the TTFF general secretary was faced with FIFA sanctions after ending up on the wrong side of Warner’s embarrassing fall from grace. So, Groden flew to Zurich and swore an affidavit—which Wired868.com obtained—that accused the Works Minister of fraud and blamed former TTFF president Oliver Camps for pressuring him to be dishonest.
Did Groden think then that Warner was a spent force?
Chased away by FIFA, the United National Congress (UNC) Chairman has survived as a local political entity and, arguably, has strengthened his base of core supporters at ground level.
For whatever reason, Groden seems horrified at the prospect of taking Warner on in Trinidad to the extent that he has even risked the wrath of a High Court Judge.
On 3 May 2012, Ali will return to court and attempt to persuade Justice Rampersad not to find Groden guilty of contempt.
A fresh application is likely to be made to get Warner into court that Lalla will again try to fend off.
And the observing “Soca Warriors” and their representatives will try to convince themselves that a legal battle between Lalla and Ali is a progressive step that can somehow end in a positive result for them.