Pettingill in contempt of court
A law firm was found in contempt of court yesterday after it continued to represent patients of Ewart Brown despite a judge’s order not to.
Assistant Justice Kiernan Bell told Mark Pettingill and Victoria Greening, of Chancery Legal, they had disobeyed a Supreme Court injunction issued this month to block the firm from acting for the former premier’s patients because of a conflict of interest.
Mrs Justice Bell, who earlier ruled that Mr Pettingill, a former attorney-general, and Ms Greening, had a conflict of interest, said: “I do make a finding that Chancery Legal are in contempt of court.”
She added that the firm could “take no further part in these legal proceedings” unless the Court of Appeal ruled in Chancery Legal’s favour.
Mr Pettingill asked the court if he was to be taken away in “shackles”.
Mrs Justice Bell said: “I wasn’t intending on making any other further statements.”
Mr Pettingill afterwards told The Royal Gazette that Chancery would “respectfully appeal” the decision.
Mr Pettingill’s firm’s clients were among 265 patients whose health records were seized during police raids on Dr Brown’s two medical clinics, Bermuda Healthcare Services in Paget and Brown-Darrell in Smith’s, in February 2017.
The raids were part of an investigation by police into allegations that the clinics ordered unnecessary diagnostic imaging scans to boost profits.
Dr Brown and BHCS medical director Mahesh Reddy have denied any wrongdoing in relation to the alleged over-scanning of patients and have not been charged with any offences.
Chancery acted for 150 patients who were given permission by the Supreme Court to intervene in a civil case brought by Dr Reddy and the clinics against Bermuda Police Service.
The patients wanted to stop the police from getting access to their files and to have the medical records returned.
Mark Diel, representing the police, asked the court last month to bar Mr Pettingill and Ms Greening, a former Crown prosecutor, from acting for the patients on the grounds that they had access to confidential information in their former roles on a long-running police investigation into Dr Brown.
Mrs Justice Bell agreed and ruled on May 2 that Mr Pettingill and Ms Greening had “received confidential and relevant information of the [Commissioner of Police] and the BPS attributable to their lawyer-client relationship” and that there was a risk of that information being disclosed to the detriment of the police.
She told Chancery Legal it was “restrained from acting for the ... patients”.
Mr Diel said yesterday that Chancery breached the order by applying for a “stay” on the injunction on behalf of the patients, filing an affidavit and lodging a notice of appeal with the Court of Appeal.
He alleged that the court registry had been “communicating” with Chancery “in order to proceed with the appeal”, despite “knowing full well of the injunction”.
Mr Diel complained that proper procedure for serving legal papers in relation to the appeal had not been followed and said it was a “procedural shambles”.
He added: “It’s bad enough that Chancery Legal are in breach, but what has happened is that the court has now been drawn into this and you will see the mess that has happened.”
Mr Diel alleged that court staff were involved in “cosy chats” with Chancery.
He said: “The court is actively facilitating the breach.”
He added the proceedings should be adjourned until the patients were represented by a law firm with no conflict in the case.
Mr Pettingill told the court that Chancery had sought guidance from the court after the conflict of interest ruling and had acted on the instructions of its clients, who did not want to find alternative lawyers.
He said it made sense for the firm to apply for a stay on the injunction and to pursue an appeal.
Mr Pettingill said: “All we are seeking to do is in the interests of fairness. It doesn’t impact on the respondents one iota to have us deal with the issue of the stay.”
He added that Mr Diel had “openly accused the Registrar of the Supreme Court” and the Clerk of the Court of Appeal of “being in contempt”.
Mr Pettingill said there was “a degree of a bullying approach” through e-mails sent by Mr Diel to the court and “the threats going on”.
Mr Pettingill, a director of Chancery Legal who has sat as a Supreme Court assistant justice, said in his 30-year career at the Bar he had never been “scolded or been in contempt of court”.
He said after the hearing: “We were candidly surprised at this decision made on the application of Mark Diel, given that we were encouraged to prepare and attend a hearing for a stay application on behalf of our clients.”
The Registrar of the Supreme Court did not respond to a request for comment.
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