Thursday, November 11, 2010

Fraud, theft, bribery, perjury and ogling porn during working hours are some of the charges laid against more than 20 magistrates.

You're fired!
Commission throws the book at dodgy magistrates, telling them:
Nov 10, 2010 10:07 PM | By THABO MOKONE


Fraud, theft, bribery, perjury and ogling porn during working hours are some of the charges laid against more than 20 magistrates.


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•Cape magistrates on the wrong side of the law
The Magistrates' Commission told the parliamentary portfolio committee on justice yesterday that it would throw the book at errant judicial officers. It has already fired two magistrates and suspended three. The conduct of 16 others is being investigated.

Two magistrates in Western Cape were fired for lying to the Magistrates' Commission, which oversees the conduct of judicial officers, and to the Law Society of SA, which regulates attorneys.

Their deceit led to them being found to be not "fit and proper" to remain in judicial office.

Andre Louw, a member of the ethics committee of the Magistrates' Commission, said the axed magistrates were Ashika Maharaj, of George, in the southern Cape, and Nathier Jassiem, of Mitchells Plain, Cape Town.

Maharaj, who faced eight charges of misconduct and was found guilty on five, had referred to the death of a man as "good riddance to bad rubbish" while presiding over a case involving a car accident, Louw said.

Maharaj allegedly defrauded clients while practising as an attorney before her appointment as a magistrate, he said.

Maharaj denied making the "good riddance to bad rubbish" remark in a written response to the charge, but confessed to lying about it during her disciplinary hearing.

"She conceded under cross-examination that she had lied. She said it is easier to lie on paper than in front of people. She is now being criminally charged with perjury," said Louw.

His colleague, Hans Meijer, told MPs that the commission had ruled that Maharaj was not fit and proper to hold office and had dismissed her.

Jassiem was exposed as moonlighting as an attorney while serving on the bench, and then lying about it to both the Magistrates' Commission and the Law Society of SA, Meijer said.

During the misconduct hearing, Jassiem claimed that he had been dealing only with estates and conveyancing, and that he was not "practising as an attorney". His explanation was rejected.

"You can't serve two masters," said Meijer. "If you can't make a career choice, we will do it for you.

"He lied. He misled both the law society and the commission. He's not a fit and proper person to hold the office of magistrate."

He said the Magistrates' Commission was investigating a further 19 cases of misconduct by judicial officers across the country, ranging from taking bribes to sexual harassment and presiding over trials while drunk.

The 19 cases include:

ýA Louis Trichardt, Limpopo, magistrate has been suspended and is facing criminal charges after allegedly accepting a R5000 bribe after colluding with a prosecutor and a defence lawyer about the outcome of a criminal case;

ýA magistrate in Cala, in Eastern Cape, is being investigated for submitting a claim for using his private vehicle for official work when he allegedly used a court car; and

ýIn North West, a magistrate in Lichtenburg is facing three charges of theft. He allegedly gave himself powers to adjudicate on any matter, including civil and labour cases.

A Magistrates' Commission member, Steve Swart, an MP for the African Christian Democratic Party, said: "I find these allegations almost unbelievable and shocking in the extreme for a judicial officer to have acted in such a way.

"If the allegations are true, he has no idea how to disburse justice and it's clear there is abuse of office," he said.

A magistrate at the Pretoria Commercial Crimes Court is to return to work after being cleared of keeping explicit pornographic material on his office computer.

Meijer said the magistrate did not source the pornography but watched it repeatedly.

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