Lawyer recalls having ‘no ability to eat’

  • Highlighting work issue: lawyer Eugene Johnston

    Highlighting work issue: lawyer Eugene Johnston

Lawyer Eugene Johnston revealed he relied on his support network because his family had “no ability to eat” when he found himself out of work.

Mr Johnston, who has handled a series of prominent court cases over the past decade, fell on hard times after he got into hot water with the Court of Appeal in 2017. He took to the floor at a public meeting exploring the introduction of a living wage for Bermuda on Thursday.

Mr Johnston said: “Normally when subjects like this come up, I don’t get at all emotive. But for some reason I was sitting there and I got a bit choked up because, maybe about a year ago, I was standing in a courtroom in a suit and a tie representing clients who needed help and about a week later, or even less than that, I found myself completely out of work.

“Being out of work means that my family has no ability to eat.

“My wife worked with me, so the particular strategy that was used to put me out of work essentially put her out of work and put my children in financial chaos.”

The lawyer said his own network meant he, his wife and children were supported while he was out of work for nearly a year.

Mr Johnston continued: “I say it’s the nuclear family — man, woman, child — because it’s the most controllable economic unit anybody can find.

“The reason why I’ve survived since October 11 last year until I began work just short of a year later is because my nuclear family is somewhat tied in to a far broader extended family unit and I live in a family compound that’s paid for with parents and others.

“And because my wife is also tied in to a structure like that, that somehow softens the blow of economic exploitation and deliberate attacks.”

Mr Johnston’s clients included the Corporation of Hamilton when it tried to block the One Bermuda Alliance government takeover, Bermuda Emissions Control when it was subpoenaed to appear at the Commission of Inquiry, the Bermuda Parent Teacher Student Association when it challenged the Ministry of Education and Bermudians Against the Draft, who fought against conscription.

He got into legal difficulty after he launched a civil appeal on behalf of controversial American speaker Ayo Kimathi, who was added to the “stop list” after a 2015 appearance on the island.

The Court of Appeal said last year that the lawyer failed to comply with a string of court orders that resulted in the Government and the Human Rights Commission incurring considerable expenses preparing for the case.

Appeal judges also said that Mr Johnston failed to appear in court leading up to the appeal in November 2016 after his firm, J2 Chambers, lost its indemnity cover.

The appeal was consequently struck out and last November the Court of Appeal made a “wasted costs order” against Mr Johnston, which meant he was personally liable for the payment of legal costs incurred by the two respondent parties.

At the panel discussion, organised by the Progressive Labour Party, called The Living Wage — Relief is on the way, Mr Johnston claimed “no living wage will fix the deeper issue” of “two Bermudas”.

He said: “It is not the non-Bermudian that they’re targeting; it’s the other Bermudian.

“I was targeted, my family was targeted, and this is the reason why I stood, to broaden the conversation.

“If one Bermuda comes across the seas with a philosophy and a structure which demands exploitation to survive and we speak of equality as our goal, would that not demand that we also adopt the same structural institution that demands exploitation?”

Mr Johnston told the meeting: “The answer’s not just tax reform and living wages and cost of living expenses ... the other problem is untethering ourselves from the institutions which virtually demand that we become tinker masters with policies.

“If we adopt a behaviour which is authentically ourselves, some of the biggest and most deleterious problems that we face, and some of the strategies that are used against us to perpetuate those inequalities, will have no power.”

Mr Johnston could not be reached for further comment.

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Published Oct 22, 2018 at 8:00 am (Updated Oct 22, 2018 at 6:57 am)

Lawyer recalls having ‘no ability to eat’

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