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Former client seeks redress
Legal Affairs Minister Prakash Ramadhar is being asked to refund more than $300,000 in legal fees to a client he represented at the Chaguanas Magistrates’ Court two years ago. The client has so far spent $800,000 in lawyer fees, $400,000 of which was paid to Ramadhar, political leader of the Congress of the People (COP) for legal representation at a preliminary inquiry. He has since filed a complaint against Ramadhar with the Disciplinary Committee at the Ministry of Justice.
The client, a businessman, is jointly charged with three others for a December 2009 murder. Last year, the men were committed to stand trial following paper committal proceedings. The complaint was lodged last week by the man’s wife at the Hall of Justice in Port-of-Spain. Sources said letters were written to Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, former Law Association president Dana Seetahal SC, permanent secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister Reynold Cooper, the Ministry of Justice, Ramadhar and the man’s other attorney, Jagdeo Singh.
In letters dated July 7, 2011, and July 29, 2012, addressed to Persad-Bissessar, Ramadhar’s former client asked the Prime Minster to intervene in the matter. Reference was made to a letter dated May 31, 2011, and addressed to Ramadhar, which requested a refund of monies for legal services that were not provided due to his “entry in the election campaign.”
“To date, he has neither responded nor contacted me...I had spoken to Mr Ramadhar over one year ago regarding my refund. Mr Ramadhar had stopped answering my calls and refused to return my numerous messages left at his south office. I would be truly grateful if you would assist in having Mr Ramadhar settle this matter amicably…”
On September 1, 2011, a letter was also written to Cooper seeking assistance but no acknowledgement was received. The Justice Ministry, through clients issues resolutions officer Beesham Seetaram, was the only one to acknowledge receipt of the complaint, which was lodged on September 13, 2011.
On November 9, 2011, Seetaram, acting on behalf of the permanent secretary, acknowledged receipt of her complaint. However, it was not until May 21, 2012, that Seetaram wrote to the client stating that attempts were made on two occasions—December 1, 2011, and April 17, 2012—to contact Ramadhar on the issue. “Both letters have not been responded to by Mr Ramadhar,” Seeteram wrote. Seetaram advised the client to “seek another avenue for redress.”
“In so doing you are advised that if you are so inclined you can lodge a complaint to the Disciplinary Committee.” Forms were enclosed in the letter. Sources at the Justice Ministry said cheques, along with copies of letters to the relevant individuals, as well as sworn affidavits were among the documents submitted to the committee.
The client retained the services of Jagdeo Singh as the lead attorney. Singh, then enlisted the services of Ramadhar, while three junior attorneys—Raphael Morgan, Michael Rooplal and Alvin Ramroop— were retained to defend the other three accused.
“You (Ramadhar) indicated that your fees for representation were $400,000 and on your oral instruction, a deposit of $100,000 was paid via cheque made out to Mr Jagdeo Singh as a retainer fee. The balance of $300,000 was paid off totally within a two-month period. “Mr Singh then indicated that his fee was $300,000, plus $100,000 for the three junior attorneys.”
In a June 1, 2011 letter, the client claimed that Ramadhar went to the Caroni Police Station on December 24, 2009, when the charges were laid. Another visit was made in late December 2009 at the Maximum Security Prison and Ramadhar made two appearances in court in January 2010.
“After this, you presented yourself as a candidate for the 2010 general elections and therefore withdrew from the case...I have made several phone calls to you regarding the refund of monies and I also spoke with Mr Jagdeo Singh who said he would speak to you with regards to the refund. “I got no response from my phone calls, nor Mr Singh.”
As a result of Ramadhar’s absence, attorney Larry Lalla replaced him and was paid from Singh’s fees. Ramadhar was given two weeks to respond and according to the documents filed, he did not. Efforts to contact him for a comment were unsuccessful. A woman who answered his cell phone said he could not entertain any calls at the moment.
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