AND SHANE SUPERVILLE
After hours of arguments and debate, a motion of no confidence in Attorney General Reginald Armour, SC, has failed. The motion was filed by a group led by attorney Kiel Taklalsingh.
Attorneys began arriving at the conference room of the Hyatt Regency Hotel, Port of Spain, from as early as 1 am for the debate on Friday.
The debate which was originally expected to begin at 2 pm was pushed back to 2.15 pm.
Out of approximately 3,040 lawyers who were eligible to vote, 317 financial members voted against the no-confidence motion against Armour over his role in the ongoing United States civil asset recovery case related to fraud allegations in the construction of the Piarco International Airport.
A final tally in support of the motion was 234, with 47 voting at the Hyatt Regency in Port of Spain and 187 on the virtual platform.
Of the 317 voting against the motion, 32 voted physically while 285 voted virtually.
Lawyers were also asked to vote on if a call should be made for Armour to resign as attorney general.
A total of 241 voted for the second motion, while a total of 310 voted against it with 31 doing so in person and 279 virtually.
A total of 551 financial members voted on the two motions with 472 virtual votes and 79 physical votes.
Special measures were put in place to protect the integrity of the voting process, Newsday was assured.
A statement from the association late Friday gave the final tally of votes for and against.
It said, “Both motions, therefore failed.”
Speaking at the meeting virtually, Armour read from his previous statements and maintained he made an error, but did not act dishonestly or set out to willfully deceive the US court, Newsday was told.
Earlier, Newsday was told Taklalsingh explained why the motion was brought and described Armour as a “brilliant lawyer” who was forthright and honest, but he told the special general meeting, that was not why they were there. He said the actions of the AG in the Miami case was not in keeping with the traditions of the bar and his explanation should not be accepted as a “mere mistake” as it will signal an “appalling apathy” for affidavits.
He also reportedly said the motion to censure the AG had nothing to do with politics.
He was said to have admitted the association could not fire or discipline Armour but voting for the motion of censure would send a message that unprofessional conduct was unacceptable.
The association has no power to compel the Prime Minister to revoke Armour’s appointment or force his resignation.
Newsday understands Armour received support from his colleagues in the inner bar, all of whom spoke against the motion.
They included former Law Association president Russell Martineau, Elton Prescott and Gilbert Peterson, among others.
Also speaking against the motion were senior attorneys Michael Quamina, Ravi Rajcoomar, Ravi Nanga and Terrance Bharath, among others.
Those for the motion included attorneys Patricia Dindyal, Renuka Rambhajan and former attorney general Garvin Nicholas.
Those who spoke in favour of and against did so either physically at the Hyatt or on the virtual platform.
Taklalsingh: Motion was meant to hold AG to account
In the original requisition, Taklalsingh said he and the other members who signed the petition felt the issue should be discussed by the membership, as it concerns the integrity of the legal profession.
“Respectfully, these allegations, if left unaddressed, have the potential to erode public confidence in our profession, the administration of justice, and the rule of law,” Taklalsingh said.
Speaking with reporters outside the conference room where the debate was held, Taklalsingh said while both motions failed, he was pleased that due process was followed and all members of the association were allowed to speak on the matter.
He noted that he was pleased that Armour was able to attend the debate and stressed the importance of holding high office holders to account.
“I think (in) every democratic society you have to be able to hold leaders to account and the law society, the legal profession is one such institution.
“Today, there was some success we were able to get the Attorney General to appear before us that did not happen on the last occasion when a no-confidence motion was brought. This Attorney General came, he was contrite, he apologised to members of the Law Association and that may have swayed the vote. We won’t know but, at the end of the day, we think that holding him to account in some form and fashion, we think we achieved our purpose.”
Armour, 65, who was appointed Attorney General in a surprise Cabinet reshuffle on March 16, failed to disclose his full involvement as a defence attorney for former government minister Brian Kuei Tung and Renee Pierre who are charged in the Piarco case when he met with US lawyers prosecuting Kuei Tung and others in a $200 million civil asset forfeiture case dragging on in Miami for 18 years.
On May 2, a US judge automatically disqualified Armour and the law firm Sequor Law on the grounds of an apparent conflict of interest as Armour was both chief prosecutor and a former defence attorney.
The government has since retained another US law firm, White and Case, to appeal the ruling by US judge Reemberto Diaz only against the disqualification of the law firm.
A request for an expedited appeal has been thrown out by the US appeal court. Former attorney general Faris Al-Rawi has replaced Armour as the client representative for the government in the US lawsuit which comes up for trial in September.
The Law Association has also opened a separate investigation into the AG’s conduct and has made a request for all the documents in the matter.
In a full-page newspaper advertisement, published after public commentary over what transpired in the case, Armour denied he misled the US Court when he initially claimed he only played a minor role in representing Kuei Tung, which was limited to research and note-taking.
Armour claimed that his initial affidavit to the court was prepared while he was in Europe on vacation and he did not have access to his office records to full recall the extent of his involvement in the case over 14 years ago.
He also claimed that he was not allowed to rectify the error when he had an opportunity to verify his records shortly after.
Speaking on the issue on his return from the US, Dr Rowley publicly dismissed the move by the association, saying he wanted to know who was going to pass a vote of no-confidence in the association as he wanted to vote.
Responding to Rowley, LATT said it was obligated to call the meeting once it received a valid requisition from its members.
In a release on Thursday, Senior Counsel Israel Khan urged attorneys to withdraw the motion or vote against it while earlier on Friday, attorney Farai Hove Maisasai also maintained the legal profession, in its entirety, was not brought into odium by Armour’s actions.