Rogue magistrates in the dock

2010-09-12 11:19

Presiding over court cases while drunk, theft and sending explicit pornographic emails to colleagues are just some of the glaring cases of misconduct facing magistrates across South Africa.

This alleged misconduct was presented to Parliament by the Magistrates’ Commission after the alleged culprits had been provisionally suspended by Justice Minister Jeff Radebe.

Magistrate Dawid Jacobs of Clocolan, Free State, as been accused of speaking in a disjointed manner and using strange and senseless language and incorrect and unfamiliar legal terminology, say reports presented to Parliament’s committee on security and constitutional development.

The Magistrates’ Commission concluded that he was “inebriated during the trial”.

Jacobs’s misconduct was reported to the commission by defence lawyers in cases he presided over.

Parliament must pass a resolution on whether or not his provisional suspension is confirmed, according to the Magistrates Act.

Parliament also ordered a review of Jacobs’s judgments over three years, including in criminal, family and civil law court cases.

The commission’s judicial quality assurance office identified no ­irregularities in Jacobs’s family and civil law cases, but found that he had imposed incompetent sentences on illegal immigrants convicted under the Immigration Act.

Jacobs fined Lesotho brothers Motlatsi and Anra Monyane R500 each (or 100 days in prison), when the prescribed maximum sentence was three months’ imprisonment.

The case is under review by the Free State High Court.

Even while under suspension in July, Jacobs was arrested for drunk driving and when he appeared in court then he was also not sober.

Pretoria magistrate Musa Chauke and his wife and son were sentenced to 12 months in prison in November 2007 for the theft of containers at Vitamine Laboratories in Midrand, Johannesburg.

Chauke’s subsequent appeal to the North Gauteng High Court succeeded, but his wife’s was dismissed.

The Magistrates’ Commission charged him on two counts of misconduct for sending emails containing “explicit pornographic material” from his workplace computer.

The commission recommended that Chauke not be suspended because “the nature and seriousness of the charge for which he was found guilty does not warrant provisional suspension”.

Lefa Maruwa, a Daveyton magistrate, was slapped with a fine of R5?000, which he paid, or 12 months’ imprisonment last November on 11 counts of fraud.

Maruwa is appealing against the conviction and the sentence.

He was found to have fraudulently endorsed court records to show that a prosecutor involved in a traffic offence was present in court and that he had no previous convictions, among other matters.

His inquiry has been postponed pending the outcome of his appeal.

Themba Masinga, an Umlazi, Durban, magistrate, allegedly threatened to kill his wife, assaulted her with a blunt axe and kicked her.

He faces charges of attempted murder and two of assault.

Masinga, who is represented by trade union Nehawu in his misconduct inquiry, is yet to appoint a ­legal representative.

Ermelo magistrate Wessel Prinsloo pleaded guilty on 10 charges of misconduct for phoning a former court employee and leaving vulgar messages on her voicemail.

Prinsloo escaped removal from office and his provisional suspension may be rescinded, but he was reprimanded by commission chair Judge Bernard Ngoepe.

Last year City Press reported that Graaff-Reinet magistrate Collen Dumani was accused of “putting his hand between a clerk of the court’s breasts, tickling a cleaner’s neck and stroking the cheeks of another cleaner and a (female) security guard”.

Dumani was found guilty on three of the four sexual harassment charges. and the commission is still to decide his fate.

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