Former Trinidad and Tobago Gymnastics Federation (TTGF) president David Marquez, first vice-president Akil Wattley, second vice-president Ricardo Lue Shue and his wife and assistant treasurer Donna Lue Shue will have to pay their own legal costs, after High Court Judge Frank Seepersad today dismissed their attempt to stick gymnast Thema Williams with their bill.
Last week, Justice Seepersad ordered the Trinidad and Tobago Gymnastics Federation (TTGF) to pay TT$200,000 in damages to Williams, after he ruled that the local sporting body unfairly stripped of her spot at the Rio 2016 Olympic Test event. The TTGF sent Canada-born gymnast, Marisa Dick, in her place.
However, Seepersad did not find Marquez, Wattley and the Lue Shues personally liable for injustice done to the former St Joseph’s Convent (Port of Spain) student and Diego Martin resident.
The partial victory led the four officials to seek financial retribution against Williams, who turns 23 on Thursday. But Seepersad suggested that they were pushing their luck.
“[Marquez, Wattley and the Lue Shues] are rather fortunate that they were shielded from personal liability primarily because they acted in their capacity as bona fide members of the [TTGF],” said Seepersad, in his judgment. “However, their conduct was unacceptable and should by accompanied by a sense of shame.
“[…] The Court found as a fact that the conduct of [Marquez, Wattley and the Lue Shues] was characterised by a degree of blameworthiness and arbitrariness. They were the ones who drove the ill-advised and unfair replacement decision and their entrenched biases clouded their judgment.”
Marquez, Wattley and the Lue Shues were represented by Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj SC and Ronnie Bissessar, instructed by Varin Gopaul-Gosine.
Martin Daly SC and Keith Scotland, instructed by Reza Ramjohn, appeared for Williams.
Seepersad went further to state that Williams made the right decision in joining the four officials to the case, even though he did not hold them personally responsible for the injustice.
“The Court formed the view that [Williams] did not engage in a misdirected fishing expedition,” said Seepersad. “[…] The presence of [Marquez, Wattley and the Lue Shues] was critical and it was reasonable for [Williams] to have joined them as parties as their evidence was necessary for the resolution of the issues.
“If they were not parties, they may not have been called as witnesses and the Court would have been deprived of evidence which was ultimately material…
“[Williams] and the public deserved to have clarity as to the sequence of events which catalysed a decision that materially affected Williams’ life and marred this nation’s 2016 Olympic experience… The approach adopted by the claimant was sensible and necessary.”
Daly described Seepersad’s ruling as “right and just.”
“[Marquez, Wattley and the Lue Shues] were exclusively the persons who caused Thema to be unfairly withdrawn from the Olympic Test event,” Daly told Wired868. “There were no other people active in the wrongdoing against her—except of course some other figures whose names we won’t mention because we are feeling rather charitable today, there were some other operatives helping them…”
It was almost certainly a reference to the Trinidad and Tobago Olympic Committee (TTOC), who Daly previously criticised for not seeking the wellbeing of the athlete.
Williams and her legal team insist that the TTOC—headed by president Brian Lewis—never called for her side of the story or to offer assistance; and they have already written the sporting body to request an explanation for its conduct.
Williams, who is a statistics and economics student at the UWI, St Augustine and preparing for exams at present, joked that she was relieved she would not have to auction off belongings to pay for Maharaj’s legal fees.
However, she told Wired868 she was confident about this morning’s hearing and content that the injustice she received was finally laid bare in the High Court.
“I wasn’t too worried about today—especially because the judge was able to identify their bias, so I felt that he would lean in our favour and he did,” said Williams. “So far, I would say [the judgments] highlighted my issue and that’s what I really wanted to do. So I am satisfied.”
Daly was delighted and reiterated that it was disingenuous for Marquez, Wattley and the Lue Shues to claim any sort of victory after the High Court made clear that their unjust behaviour did untold damage to Williams and cost the cash-strapped TTGF the sum of TT$200,000.
For all intents and purposes, Marquez, Wattley and the Lue Shues were the TTGF when Williams was controversially and unfairly stripped of her Olympic spot.
“Essentially, there were no other persons active in the wrong against Thema, so it would seem totally unjust that—because she failed in only one of her causes of action—she should have to pay any cost,” said Daly. “So of course we are delighted with this. And we just wonder for how much longer are these defendants not going to accept the reality of the Judge’s findings and examine their conscience accordingly.”
Wired868 caught up with Marquez, who is also a board member and general manager of the COPOS Credit Union Co-operative Society Ltd, on the steps of the Hall of Justice.
Wired868: Would you comment on the ruling against you?
Marquez: I can’t make a comment because we still have to deal with our lawyers.
Wired868: Justice Seepersad said you should feel ashamed of your conduct, what is your take on that?
Marquez: I cannot make a comment. I have to talk to my lawyers first. It is still in the lawyers hands.
Wired868: Do you feel ashamed?
Marquez: No I don’t.
(Justice Seepersad’s ruling on request for costs by David Marquez, Akil Wattley, Ricardo Lue Shue, Donna Lue Shue)
On 26 November 2018, this Court delivered its decision in this matter and the issue of costs now arises for its determination. The Court must determine whether or not [Thema Williams] ought to pay the costs of [David Marquez, Akil Wattley, Ricardo Lue Shue and Donna Lue Shue] for the claims made against them.
Part 66.6(1) of the Civil Proceedings Rules 1998 (as amended) or “CPR” provides that the general rule is that the unsuccessful party should be ordered to pay the costs of the unsuccessful party. However, the Court is vested with the discretion to depart from the rule so long as that decision is exercised [judiciously].
Part 66.6(4) of the CPR provides that in deciding who should be liable to pay costs the court must have regard to all the circumstances. The Court must also have regard to the overriding objective of the CPR, which is to deal with cases justly.
Part 66.6(5) of the CPR prescribes a non-exhaustive list of matters which the Court should consider in arriving at its decision. These include:
- the conduct of the parties;
- whether a party has succeeded on particular issues, even if he has not been successful in the whole of the proceedings;
- whether it was reasonable for a party (i) to pursue a particular allegation; and/or (ii) to raise a particular issue;
- the manner in which a party has pursued (i) his case (ii) a particular allegation; or (iii) a particular issue;
- whether a claimant who has won his claim caused the proceedings to be defended by claiming an unreasonable sum; and
- whether the claimant gave reasonable notice of his intention to issue a claim.
In weighing these factors, the Court considered its award of exemplary damages in condemnation of the conduct of [Marquez, Wattley and the Lue Shues] and noted that the principal issue of the unfair treatment of [Williams] was decided in her favour.
Further, the Court formed the view that [Williams] did not engage in a misdirected fishing expedition. The Court also found that the pre-action protocol processes were properly engaged and invaluable information was unearthed from the individual phone records of [Marquez, Wattley and the Lue Shues]. This information was unearthed after the pleadings were closed.[…] The Court found as a fact that the conduct of [Marquez, Wattley and the Lue Shues] was characterised by a degree of blameworthiness and arbitrariness. They were the ones who drove the ill-advised and unfair replacement decision and their entrenched biases clouded their judgment.
The acts and/or omissions of these defendants resulted in the Trinidad and Tobago Gymnastics Federation’s contractual breach, which the Court found to be so egregious that it awarded exemplary damages so as to deter the arbitrary discharge of decision-making authority and to underscore the need to ensure that decisions are effected in circumstances that are devoid of bias.
The presence of [Marquez, Wattley and the Lue Shues] was critical and it was reasonable for [Williams] to have joined them as parties as their evidence was necessary for the resolution of the issues. If they were not parties, they may not have been called as witnesses and the Court would have been deprived of evidence which was ultimately material.
The Court addressed its mind to the need for the presence of good reason if it elects not to make a costs order and found that such good reason was manifest on the factual matrix before it.
The approach adopted by [Williams] was sensible and necessary. The information obtained from [Marquez, Wattley and the Lue Shues] due to their mandated participation at the trial was relevant.[Williams] and the public deserved to have clarity as to the sequence of events which catalysed a decision that materially affected Williams’ life and marred this nation’s 2016 Olympic experience. The unmasking of the inaccurate narrative preferred by the [TTGF] unfolded when the Court analysed the evidence of these defendants. [Marquez, Wattley and the Lue Shues] are rather fortunate that they were shielded from personal liability primarily because they acted in their capacity as bona fide members of the [TTGF]. However, their conduct was unacceptable and should by accompanied by a sense of shame.
Having considered the law, the relevant criteria and the overriding objective, justice, fairness, practicality and common sense mandate this Court to order that there shall be no order as to costs relative to the dismissal of the claim against [Marquez, Wattley and the Lue Shues].