Opinion: Challenge (Simpson Bay Resort)

POSTED: 04/15/12 4:26 PM

Attorneys have a weapon in their arsenal that they seldom use: the right to challenge a judge. The objective of such a challenge is to force the judge to withdraw from a case and to let it be handled by someone else.
When the attorneys for the Wifol-union asked a judge of the Common Court to excuse himself from handling a request by the Simpson Bay Resort Management Company to suspend a court ruling that obliges the company to live up to the collective labor agreement the union signed with the resorts predecessor (the Pelican Resort), they took this initiative with the best on intentions: to prevent an embarrassing situation in the courtroom.
But the judge in question opted not to react to the request at all, and therefore the courtroom drama went in overdrive yesterday morning after a bitchy exchange between the president of the court and Wifol-attorney Le Poole. For clarity’s sake – the bitchy part came from the court president who snapped at Le Poole that he did not want to discuss the issue.
That forced the attorney’s hand: he had no other option left than to ask the court to challenge the judge in question. The reason for the challenge is that the judge, mr. de Haan, was also part of the appeals court (which works with a panel of three judges) that ruled against the Wifol in November. Since there are plenty of other judges available, the attorneys for Wifol did not quite understand why it would be a problem to remove mr. de Haan from the case.
If the challenge is rejected, and mr. De Haan remains on board, a ruling that will go against the Wifol could easily be interpreted as biased. That is exactly what the attorneys for the union want to prevent.
It seems a reasonable and logical request, and that makes the irritated reaction of court president Sijmonsma all the more remarkable. Nothing will be lost by replacing Judge De Haan, while a ruling with this judge on the bench will always be perceived in some quarters as biased.
The challenge board that is handling the request to remove mr. De Haan from the bench consists of three local resident judges: mr. Koen Luijks, who works in Philipsburg as the Judge of Instruction, mr. Monique Keppels, who handles criminal cases in the Court in First Instance, and mr. Didier Thierry, who handles civil cases. Their ruling will come down on Wednesday morning.

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