The Ralph Gonsalves government has been ordered to pay dismissed public servant, Otto Sam, all the monies he would have earned had he not been fired in 2013 — after 33 years of service to the nation.
In a ruling handed down on Thursday, High Court judge, Justice Esco Henry ordered Attorney General Judith Jones-Morgan to ensure that Sam, a career educator, receives full pay from the time he was suspended in 2012, with all benefits and full pension.
Sam was awarded cost and damages, both of which will be assessed in due course, Jomo Thomas, the lead attorney for the plaintiff said in a post on Facebook.
“Otto Sam must be the happiest man in Kingstown today,” Thomas said, adding that the judgment “amounted to a devastating loss for the Public Service Commission, Colin John, Chairman of the tribunal that sanctioned Mr Sam’s dismissal, [and] Judith Jones Morgan, the Attorney General and the Government.”
In 2013, the Public Service Commission (PSC) fired Sam, a career educator who was a public servant for 33 years after the tribunal, in a two-to-one verdict, found Sam guilty of breaking Public Service rules when he wrote a letter in two local newspapers one year earlier.
The letter spoke about the situation at the National Emergency Management Organisation (NEMO), to which Sam was transferred in 2010 from the South Rivers Methodist School, where he was head teacher.
John, who was Assistant Director of Public Prosecutions at the time, chaired the tribunal.
John, who exited the police force as a sergeant when he was transferred to the National Prosecution Services after completing a law degree, was this year appointed acting Deputy Commissioners of Police.
The tribunal also included Cecily Saunders, a retired public servant and Aldric Williams, a retired superintendent of police.
After the tribunal’s ruling, Saunders went public saying that she did not think that Sam was guilty of breaking the Public Service Rules, as alleged.
Sam appealed to the Public Service Appeal Board, which upheld the tribunal’s ruling.
The St. Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers’ Union then hired Thomas’ chambers, which include Shirlan “Zita” Barnwell — now an opposition senator — to ask the High Court leave for judicial review of the decision of the appeal board.
Leave was granted and the decision was handed down on Sunday.
Thomas rejoiced at the decision, saying on Facebook: “As the lead attorney in the firm that carried this case, I feel a sense of satisfaction to be associated with such an important case.
“Judicial review of state action is a powerful weapon. We must use it more often to vindicate and protect the rights of citizens,” added Thomas, who was appointed a government senator in 2013, some months after the legal proceeding began and was elected Speaker of the House of Assembly last December, unopposed.
“This was a case in which the state sought to end the career of a teacher of more that 30 years because he wrote a letter. The court found the state actors to have acted improperly and illegally,” Thomas said in response to a comment on Facebook.
He later told iWitness News that he was “ecstatic” about the court’s decision
“It’s my client. I am delighted that he prevailed. The law was with us,” Thomas told iWitness News.
Thomas, a U.S.-trained lawyer and advocate of legal challenge to what he sees as strong-armed actions of the state against citizens, told iWitness News that “judicial reviews are a beautiful thing”.
“More and more, people need to understand that they do not have to accept whatever they are told by state actors,” Thomas told iWitness News.
Thursday’s victory is the second for Sam in the long-running saga of his dismissal from the public service.
In September 2015, the Court of Appeal dismissed the Government’s appeal of a High Court ruling that Sam’s transfer from NEMO in 2010 was “irrational and illegal”, as Justice Gertel Thom had ruled in February 2014.