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Legal fight over CoH representation

A dispute over the legal representation of the Corporation of Hamilton has erupted in the aftermath of Government claiming stewardship.

During a hearing in Chambers yesterday afternoon, lawyers Alan Dunch and Eugene Johnson both claimed they represented the Corporation in an action concerning the constitutionality of the Bermuda Government seizing control of the municipality.

While Mr Dunch had applied to come officially on record for the Corporation and end the legal challenge, Mr Johnson said he still represented the Corporation and sought to continue the proceedings.

Mr Dunch argued that when Sen Michael Fahy, the Home Affairs Minister, took over stewardship of the Corporation last Friday, it included control over legal counsel.

“Notice has been served and on the instruction of the Minister, as steward, he has instructed me to bring this matter to an end,” Mr Dunch said.

“It’s in his opinion a complete waste of taxpayers’ funds and something that is a distraction to the Corporation of Hamilton getting on with its business.”

The lawyer also told the court that Mayor of Hamilton Graeme Outerbridge had instructed Mr Johnson not to proceed with the legal filings, but that the lawyer had done so despite those instructions. He noted that according to the Municipalities Act, resolutions cannot be passed without the mayor’s consent.

Mr Johnson, however, responded that he had informed the Mayor that the legal action had been agreed on by a resolution, and that if Mr Outerbridge wished to undo it, he would need to pass a positive resolution first.

He alleged that because Mr Outerbridge was unable to get a resolution, the minister had claimed stewardship in a “bold attempt” to end the proceedings, stating that he had filed an application to amend the originating summons and supporting affidavits from Deputy Mayor Donal Smith and others.

Mr Johnson also argued that Sen Fahy does not have the power to rescind a Corporation resolution or discontinue a legal action against himself or the Government, calling the attempt to stop the action “a farce”.

Both lawyers accused each other of conflicts of interest during the proceedings. Mr Johnson pointed out that Mr Dunch already represents Sen Fahy, while Mr Dunch alleged that Mr Johnson had written a “letter before action” alleging defamation against both the Mayor and the Corporation secretary (Edward Benevides) arising from complaints that they had made against him to the Bar Council.

Chief Justice Ian Kawaley said that the arguments raised immediate questions to be considered: whether the stewardship power gave the Home Affairs Minister the right to issue or discontinue proceedings on behalf of the Corporation, who had the ability to order the issuance of the proceedings and if the requisite instructions to issue the proceedings had been given.

Mr Justice Kawaley ordered both parties to file evidence by February 6, stating that he would like to have the matter before the courts again next month.

He also agreed to strike out claims against the Ombudsman, who had also been listed in the filings, stating that there was no substantial complaint against her.