The High Court ruled on Thursday that former opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace, defamed his former secretary, Rishatha Nicholls, in statements he made about her on radio on April 23 and 24, 2014, just under a year after firing her.
Nicholls welcomed the decision of the court, telling iWitness News, “It is basic. It is something I expected because it would not have gone any other way. It is more or less the same issue that came out of the Labour Department. So I didn’t expect it to have gone any other way else.”
Eustace, who has been Member of Parliament or East Kingstown since 1998, fired Nicholls in March 2013, after almost 12 years as his secretary.
She brought a claim of unfair dismissal before the Hearing Officer of the Department of Labour, who ruled that Nicholls was unfairly terminated.
Eustace appealed that ruling, and the Appeals Tribunal of the Department of Labour on March 14, 2014 upheld the decision of the Hearing Officer and ordered that Nicholls be compensated in the sum of EC$16,199.99, which Eustace paid.
In the letter of dismissal, Eustace said he was firing Nicholls for failure to write up a vote book, the disappearance of monies donated to political activist Elwardo “E.G.” Lynch, and loss of confidence.
Eustace was sued after he failed to comply with the demands of the law firm of Marks & Marks, which in two letters to him on Nov. 12, 2014, said that Eustace defamed their clients in calls to “AM Mayhem” on Hot 97 radio on April 23 and 24, 2014.
The firm said that Eustace’s statements on the radio programme on April 23 “meant and were understood to mean that Mrs. Rishatha Nicholls was involved in corruption and had committed the criminal act of theft, an offence that is punishable by imprisonment…
“By your false and malicious utterances, you have gravely injured our client’s character and reputation,” the firm said, and demanded, on behalf of Nicholls, that Eustace issue a public apology on the same radio programme and publish the apology in the local newspapers.
They also demanded that Eustace fully retract “these false and malicious statements and publicly admit that they are untrue.
“This retraction can be included in the public apology or published separately both on the said radio programme and local newspapers,” the letter to Eustace said.
The firm also demanded that Eustace give “a written undertaking to our client that you would not publish these false and malicious statements or any other defamatory statements against her” and that Eustace compensate Nicholls “in an amount to be agreed upon by our Chambers”.
“Failure to meet any of these demands within seven days hereof would result in legal proceedings being brought against you in the High Court of Justice,” the firm said.
Asked on Thursday if she thought that her reputation has been reinstated as a result of the court ruling, Nicholls told iWitness News:
“It gives me some relief, more or less, that the law sat down and actually looked at the issue in its entirety and realised that, more or less, there was not an offence that was committed on my part.
“So I respect the fact that I can honour due process and live by the law and do what is right. So it is not a matter of — I would never be able to be freely innocent in terms of my peace as before. I understand and recognise that. But the thing is that it gives more relief that all of that burden is past because, at least, I have something from the law that I could now say to people, that look, I did not do something.
“So this is what it is: you went to court, you made sure you faced your opponent, give him his entire freedom to defend himself and to let the court know what and what, which he couldn’t do, and know now that I would have gotten my justice, this is mine.”
Meanwhile, Maia Eustace, Mr. Eustace’s daughter and member of his legal team, told iWitness News separately on Thursday: “We respect that the court has ruled. We are disappointed but resolute. Mr. Eustace and the legal team shall review the court’s judgment and take instructions from Mr. Eustace as regards our next steps.”
According to Thursday’s judgement, parties will now have to discuss the level of compensation that Nicholls will receive – if Mr. Eustace does not appeal the ruling.