Today in the chambers of Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin, it was decided that a lawsuit filed by Wilfred Elrington, the Attorney General and Minster of Foreign Affairs, will have its day in court against Eamon Courtenay, the President of the Bar Association.
The lawsuit originates from a previous case in which Elrington was sued by 2 Americans who had majority shareholdings in a company along with him. In that case, the Americans sued Elrington for a breach his duties to the company because he also acted as its lawyer.
They were represented by attorneys Eamon Courtenay and Priscilla Banner, and after the case was decided before Justice Legall, Elrington felt that he was entitled to costs because he was forced to defend against the lawsuit, even though he was reluctant to do so.
His premise was that Courtenay and Banner did not have to authority to represent the company to sue him because he also was a director. According to him, there were certain procedures which needed to be followed for a unanimous board decision such as that could be reached.
Justice Legall refused to grant him costs in that lawsuit, so he brought his own separate lawsuit against Courtney and Banner. Today, their attorney – who is Denys Barrow - made an application to strike it out on the position that Justice Legall already made the decision when it was initially raised.
We got all this information after the matter was heard in chambers. So, when we met Elrington at court we took the opportunity to ask him why he, who holds such high offices, would bring this lawsuit in the first place.
He told us it’s nothing personal; it’s just professional grievance between 2 private attorneys, and neither is it connected to their respective office holdings.
Hon. Wilfred Elrington - Attorney General/Foreign Affairs Minister
"This action is neither brought by the attorney general nor is it a suit against the president of the bar. There is really a private matter between myself and my law firm and the Courtenay law firm. What happened is that I was involved with a company and we had a falling out with the directors of the company and I'm trying to get the company to account for the proceeds of the earnings of the company and this is a standard practice in court and the company retained the services of Courtenay and Company. But as a part of that case Courtenay and Company sued me and my law firm in a personal capacity. Is that correct? Really I argue that they did not have authority to do it because in order for them to do it they would have had to get specific instructions from the company of which I am a partner, a shareholder and I was taking the company to court because the company had not behaved in any way as it should have behaved as a company. There is provision to the law where the people who manage a company behave in such an irresponsible and negligent manner for the court in fact to order that they be made to account for their stewardship. They have not done that thus far and as a fall out from that the action was brought against me and my firm - that action was dismissed by the court quite rightly so and then because they did not have the authority to bring the action, I would have known if they had the authority to bring the action because I am a shareholder, they would have had to hold a general meeting and none was held. Apart from that, during the trial of the case which was brought against me it was disclosed by the director of the company that in fact he had had no authority to bring the action. Once that was disclosed and once I knew that no authority had been given then I knew that Courtenay and Company did not have the authority to bring the action against us. It's really a legal, technical matter and so we sued them for what is called Breach of Warranty of Authority in other words for taking an action against me and my firm that they had no authority to do."
Elrington is hoping that if the court rules in his favor, he will be given an award of damages because his law firm had to absorb costs.
We spoke to Denys Barrow, Courtenay and Banner's attorney, this evening who told us that they will await the reasons from the Chief Justice, and then they will consider their options.
We must note also that when this original lawsuit was heard, Courtenay also did not hold the office of the President of the Bar Association of Belize.