Categorized | Features, General, News

The case of Warren Cassell: Was justice flawed?

By Claude Gerald

The conviction, fining and imprisonment of entertainment lawyer Warren Cassell, has much more to do with the weight of adverse public opinion, inherent personality traits and a perversely compliant court process, than the standard of overwhelming evidence.

Twenty one years prior in another highly publicised case in Plymouth, a leading legal luminary met a quite similar fate, under the watch of the same high court adjudicator. Careful watchers of the law remain convinced that the conduct of the Plymouth case signalled the beginning of the fall in the integrity of court standards, ethics and what seems and smells to be in good taste.

Warren’s case is an offspring of that sad episode where an influential mob, in an even tinier post volcano society, fuelled by an assortment of motivations and incidents, distant to a court function was allowed to sway and termite the rule of law, making for a travesty of justice, which even embarrasses more backward jurisdictions. Consensus became truth and the case was over. Jail as demanded.

Sir Lee Moore’s defence then as was Leon Chaku Symmester’s later, fell flat on a palpably deaf court, seemingly blind to its equal opportunities obligation, decency and the avoidance of painting the wrong image of the practice of law. Moore’s private protestations of prosecutorial decisions by the court were as potent as it was in Cassell’s, whose presence and personality, has galvanized opposition to his persona.

And this assault on legal fundamentals is more marked in an era in which advocates of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) tout indigenous control of legal matters, in a desire to death knell a redress to the London Privy Council.

In effect both lawyers were doomed by old fashioned bad mouthing that condemned before and during trial, paving the way for deciders of facts to be soured. Both skilled practitioners hoped that legal reasoning, evidence or the lack thereof, would have trumpeted balance and transparency, historically embedded elements in English jurisprudence. That very bulwark against prejudice to the defendant was debilitating to the outcome if not calculatedly so. Justice kept weeping for attention as the keen listener listened.

The court saw a bevy of some 28 charges against Cassell, noticeably reduced to 14 and then 12, in a land deal in which he purchased shares legitimately from one Wood, who co-shared with the virtual complainant Rooney, a player in the Plymouth attorney’s case also. Charges ranged from conspiracy to defraud through procuring by deception to money laundering.

Rooney’s anger with Wood led mysteriously to his vitriol against Cassell and more so the laying of criminal charges that even more mysteriously prevailed. Rooney indirectly obtained the help of locally jealous motivators, with a crab in the barrel mentality, in flooring the high profile youthful barrister, with a knack for innovation and enterprise in expanding the boundaries of the practice of law.

Owen Rooney’s ambition to be a medical doctor trained at the abandoned American University of the Caribbean (AUC) in Plymouth, ended prematurely. He then speculated on real estate, at Providence in the North of Montserrat. Rooney’s permitted verbose excesses are legendary for their appeal to the emotionally gullible but superfluous to substance and worth in providing objective standards of proof to be credible.

His typical noisiness predictably got the local authorities to somehow listen, charge and arrest. The chief expert investigator from Bermuda testified at the trial, three years later that he was surprised to learn of the arrest which was not ordered by him. He found no probable reason, since suspicion though allowable was not enough. There has been no material change in the circumstances of the case up to now. The calling and hearing of these charges remain a puzzle.

As the main witness for the prosecution, Rooney at best was an object of rehearsed confusion, mesmerizing both sides in seeking to prove the case against the flamboyant talk show hosting attorney. As one waited for the clincher to seal his case, his oratory was as intoxicating as it was bewildering. Other witnesses’ testimony provided questionable proof for the prosecution. Nothing materially in the near five week trial went to any of the charges contrary to the outcome. No star witnesses barring a glorified story teller in the person of Rooney, who has now become his own attorney, in seeking more pounds of easy flesh, from a government who acted on his story.

Criminal law is definitional with elements that MUST be proved by the state beyond a reasonable doubt.

One is yet to learn with whom, when and how Cassell agreed to do the legal wrong of intentional defrauding, for which there was, no clear connecting evidence to even think about the issue of doubt. The court is yet to speak definitively to how the law is applied in this or any charge but advised decision makers in a two day rambling summation which exaggerated the weight of the case that conspiracy can be ‘inferred’.

The court exhausted time condemning Warren Cassell for making himself a Director of Providence Estate Ltd., without showing how that proved any of the charges. At sentencing, responding to comments on social media, the court especially mindful of the throng of ‘pound of flesh’ gathering, berated those who are inclined to put Cassell on a pedestal whilst quizzing mercy seekers, a priest and a former Chief Minister, as to whether they knew or listened to the case, implying that if they were familiar they would not have chosen to disturb the court with pleadings, whilst it gleefully endorsed the verdict.

Court officials must be mindful of the recent dicta of Sir Brian Alleyne, former Acting Chief Justice of the OECS, who placed emphasis on the loneliness of the bench and judicial conduct in and out of court especially in small societies.

Whether this verdict will stand up on law in a higher court is a compelling issue. When the facts are considered however, this expensive prosecutor imported trial may not have risen to the level of a crime for which one deserves to be jailed, in the interest of public confidence and the appeasement of law abiding citizens.

History may well absolve Warren Cassell as well as teach a bunch of lessons for all concerned.

Claude Gerald is a social commentator on Montserrat. Ceegee15@hotmail.com

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A Moment with the Registrar of Lands

By Claude Gerald

The conviction, fining and imprisonment of entertainment lawyer Warren Cassell, has much more to do with the weight of adverse public opinion, inherent personality traits and a perversely compliant court process, than the standard of overwhelming evidence.

Twenty one years prior in another highly publicised case in Plymouth, a leading legal luminary met a quite similar fate, under the watch of the same high court adjudicator. Careful watchers of the law remain convinced that the conduct of the Plymouth case signalled the beginning of the fall in the integrity of court standards, ethics and what seems and smells to be in good taste.

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Warren’s case is an offspring of that sad episode where an influential mob, in an even tinier post volcano society, fuelled by an assortment of motivations and incidents, distant to a court function was allowed to sway and termite the rule of law, making for a travesty of justice, which even embarrasses more backward jurisdictions. Consensus became truth and the case was over. Jail as demanded.

Sir Lee Moore’s defence then as was Leon Chaku Symmester’s later, fell flat on a palpably deaf court, seemingly blind to its equal opportunities obligation, decency and the avoidance of painting the wrong image of the practice of law. Moore’s private protestations of prosecutorial decisions by the court were as potent as it was in Cassell’s, whose presence and personality, has galvanized opposition to his persona.

And this assault on legal fundamentals is more marked in an era in which advocates of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) tout indigenous control of legal matters, in a desire to death knell a redress to the London Privy Council.

In effect both lawyers were doomed by old fashioned bad mouthing that condemned before and during trial, paving the way for deciders of facts to be soured. Both skilled practitioners hoped that legal reasoning, evidence or the lack thereof, would have trumpeted balance and transparency, historically embedded elements in English jurisprudence. That very bulwark against prejudice to the defendant was debilitating to the outcome if not calculatedly so. Justice kept weeping for attention as the keen listener listened.

The court saw a bevy of some 28 charges against Cassell, noticeably reduced to 14 and then 12, in a land deal in which he purchased shares legitimately from one Wood, who co-shared with the virtual complainant Rooney, a player in the Plymouth attorney’s case also. Charges ranged from conspiracy to defraud through procuring by deception to money laundering.

Rooney’s anger with Wood led mysteriously to his vitriol against Cassell and more so the laying of criminal charges that even more mysteriously prevailed. Rooney indirectly obtained the help of locally jealous motivators, with a crab in the barrel mentality, in flooring the high profile youthful barrister, with a knack for innovation and enterprise in expanding the boundaries of the practice of law.

Owen Rooney’s ambition to be a medical doctor trained at the abandoned American University of the Caribbean (AUC) in Plymouth, ended prematurely. He then speculated on real estate, at Providence in the North of Montserrat. Rooney’s permitted verbose excesses are legendary for their appeal to the emotionally gullible but superfluous to substance and worth in providing objective standards of proof to be credible.

His typical noisiness predictably got the local authorities to somehow listen, charge and arrest. The chief expert investigator from Bermuda testified at the trial, three years later that he was surprised to learn of the arrest which was not ordered by him. He found no probable reason, since suspicion though allowable was not enough. There has been no material change in the circumstances of the case up to now. The calling and hearing of these charges remain a puzzle.

As the main witness for the prosecution, Rooney at best was an object of rehearsed confusion, mesmerizing both sides in seeking to prove the case against the flamboyant talk show hosting attorney. As one waited for the clincher to seal his case, his oratory was as intoxicating as it was bewildering. Other witnesses’ testimony provided questionable proof for the prosecution. Nothing materially in the near five week trial went to any of the charges contrary to the outcome. No star witnesses barring a glorified story teller in the person of Rooney, who has now become his own attorney, in seeking more pounds of easy flesh, from a government who acted on his story.

Criminal law is definitional with elements that MUST be proved by the state beyond a reasonable doubt.

One is yet to learn with whom, when and how Cassell agreed to do the legal wrong of intentional defrauding, for which there was, no clear connecting evidence to even think about the issue of doubt. The court is yet to speak definitively to how the law is applied in this or any charge but advised decision makers in a two day rambling summation which exaggerated the weight of the case that conspiracy can be ‘inferred’.

The court exhausted time condemning Warren Cassell for making himself a Director of Providence Estate Ltd., without showing how that proved any of the charges. At sentencing, responding to comments on social media, the court especially mindful of the throng of ‘pound of flesh’ gathering, berated those who are inclined to put Cassell on a pedestal whilst quizzing mercy seekers, a priest and a former Chief Minister, as to whether they knew or listened to the case, implying that if they were familiar they would not have chosen to disturb the court with pleadings, whilst it gleefully endorsed the verdict.

Court officials must be mindful of the recent dicta of Sir Brian Alleyne, former Acting Chief Justice of the OECS, who placed emphasis on the loneliness of the bench and judicial conduct in and out of court especially in small societies.

Whether this verdict will stand up on law in a higher court is a compelling issue. When the facts are considered however, this expensive prosecutor imported trial may not have risen to the level of a crime for which one deserves to be jailed, in the interest of public confidence and the appeasement of law abiding citizens.

History may well absolve Warren Cassell as well as teach a bunch of lessons for all concerned.

Claude Gerald is a social commentator on Montserrat. Ceegee15@hotmail.com