‘War’ in the legal profession

2015-06-18 09:56


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AN acting regional magistrate who stands accused by Pietermaritzburg’s regional court prosecutors of verbally abusing and disrespecting them, has come out fighting.

She maintains at the root of their complaints is incompetence, as well as what she termed a “war between legal professionals” over positions.

The regional court prosecutors this week rallied around in support of their colleague, Mfundo Pepu, after he was slapped with an interim harassment order by acting Camperdown regional magistrate Thinake Lindelwa ­Gumede.

In a formal letter of complaint ­addressed to the office of the ­Pietermaritzburg senior public ­prosecutor and dated June 12, all the regional court prosecutors said they are prepared to work with Gumede ­only if she refrains “from being rude to any of our colleagues”.

But yesterday, Gumede told The Witness that the dispute between her and Pepu was “about incompetence” and the fact that he had assaulted her in her chambers. “I have laid a criminal complaint as well as a civil complaint against him,” she added.

She said she recorded the entire ­incident with Pepu on her iPad and has sent the recording to Sneller Recordings to be ­transcribed.

She added that she believes that the incident involving Pepu was part of a “plot” against her which has its roots in a “war” that has ­broken out between permanent district court magistrates and outsiders” who they believe ought not to be awarded acting posts in the regional court.

The district ­magistrates believe that they ought to get preference.

“My response to that is why should they? We are all ­legally qualified,” said Gumede.

The letter which was written following a resolution ­taken by “all the ­regional court prosecutors in Pietermaritzburg with no ­dissenting views” states that the basis of the complaint is the “discourteous and unprofessional treatment of some of our colleagues” by Gumede.

“It is within our knowledge that some of our colleagues, whilst carrying out their official duties in her court have experienced offensive and ­undermining treatment.

“ At times such treatment takes the form of verbal abuse and downright disrespect towards our colleagues. The worst part in all of this is that most of her antics and shenanigans are ­carried out in open court and thus in full view of the public,” they state.

They go on to say that Gumede’s ­alleged “ill treatment” of their ­colleagues has been going on for some time and escalated recently to unprecedented levels.

This is illustrated by the fact that she obtained an interim harassment order against Pepu arising out of issues while he was on duty as a prosecutor, they say.

“This effectively means that Mr Pepu’s movements in carrying out his duties are unduly limited … In this regard we would like to convey our full support and sympathy for our colleague.

They continue that as prosecutors they “cannot simply keep our mouths shut”.

“Simply put, Ms Gumede’s inglorious behaviour renders the environment we work in not conducive for us to do our duties as prosecutors.”

They say that Gumede’s conduct doesn’t allow them to carry out their mandate without fear of reprisals or verbal abuse in open court and accused her of “not having a sense of observing a court’s decorum”.

They say they are not prepared to work with Gumede unless she refrains from being rude to colleagues; must not undermine them, and must be ­professional and courteous.

They add that they have no personal issues with her and are prepared to work with her but only on condition she gives an undertaking not to engage in the behaviour they are concerned about.

They also state that a legal representative should be appointed for Pepu by the state since he was performing his duties at the time of the incident.

Gumede told The Witness that the altercation came about because Pepu was not ready for a trial matter and wanted an hour and a half to consult his witnesses. He told her not to tell the witnesses that he was at fault for the delay. She alleged that he “pushed” his finger into her ­forehead during an altercation.

Gumede said she has a problem with prosecutors arriving late and not being ready when matters were set down for trial. “We are accountable to the public. We are paid with taxpayers’ money and we have to do our job.”

She alleged further that Pepu “was acting on the instructions of his seniors” who were party to the “plot” around the war over the acting regional court posts.

Contacted for comment yesterday over the dispute between Gumede and Pepu as well as the regional court ­prosecutors, KZN director of public prosecutions, Sophy Noko, said she was looking into the matter along with the chief prosecutor of the Pietermaritzburg cluster.

“There is a judicial process that is taking place and we cannot comment further for the reason that information is sub judice”. Regarding the regional court prosecutors, “whilst they have expressed their concerns with working with Ms Gumede, work at the courts is continuing”, said Noko

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  court

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