Lockie Johnson fights University of St. Eustatius School of Medicine’s lien

POSTED: 11/24/14 8:03 PM

“I don’t understand why they are doing this”

St. Maarten – On December 5, the Court in First Instance will pronounce its decision about a conflict between Lockie Johnson and the University of St. Eustatius School of Medicine – located in Cole Bay. The school has put a lien on all of Johnson’s liquid assets, while Johnson and her husband Joe claim close to $70,000 in unpaid salaries from their adversary.

In a regular court procedure, the judge ruled earlier that the $60,000 claim the university says to have is baseless – reason for Johnson to ask the court to lift the lien, more so because the lien keeps five times the claim’s worth hostage.

The university has appealed the ruling in the regular procedure. It wants to keep the lien in place, citing concerns about recourse in case the appeal ruling goes in its favor.

Attorney Jairo Bloem told the court that the Johnsons own property in Saba valued at $500,000 and that it is mortgaged for half of that amount. “There is enough over-value, but in spite of this there is a lien on bank accounts and on Johnson’s salary.”

Bloem said that the couple now has to live of $400 a month plus the retirement benefits Joe Johnson receives, while the university has an annual income of $8 million.

The university claims the money from Johnson for prematurely breaking up her contract. “And this while the whole board and the supervisory board stepped down at the same time,” Bloem pointed out.

The lien hampers Johnson’s investment plans in Saba in a restaurant and bar designed to serve the students of the medical school on that island.

Camiel Koster, the attorney for the University of St. Eustatius School of Medicine (Usem), pointed out that the court ruling in the regular court procedure – where the claim on the Johnsons was ruled baseless – is not determinative for a ruling in summary proceedings. “It only has to be taken into consideration,” he said. Koster furthermore noted that the lien does not result in an untenable situation for the Johnsons. “The university has proposed to lift the lien against a bank guarantee, but they did not accept that. The ruling on appeal in the regular procedure will probably be there in March, so the lien will not have to remain in place for a very long time.”

Koster contested that Usem has an annual turnover of $8 million.

“It is devastating that the university keeps pursuing us like this,” an emotional Lockie Johnson told the court.

She noted that the university’s owner had made all kinds of promises about funding for the accreditation of the institution – and that she had worked hard to achieve that goal – but that in October of last year suddenly the payment of salaries and bills stopped. “All the money had disappeared and there were major debts.”

Johnson worked seven months for Usem. “I resigned a year ago for urgent reasons. The school brought a lawsuit against me for quitting. Fortunately, the medical school in Saba invited me back to work there. All this has me concerned about our future. I don’t understand why they are doing this, because it is the owner who defaulted.”

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