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Wednesday, June 2, 2010

A SAD DAY FOR THE BAR: LAWYER HISSES ON HIGH COURT JUDGE

“Please come over quick to Justice Candide-Johnson’s court. Come and witness how a lawyer is seriously misbehaving in that court. It is so bad that one of the lawyers there has declared that in all of his 24 years of practice, he has never seen such shameful conduct from any counsel. They are still at it. Come now.”
Dateline – February 15 2010. The time was 11.50 a.m, when this call from a gecko, a regular litigant in the court of Honourable Justice Jide Candide-Johnson of the Ikeja High Court, Ikeja Lagos.
The importance of the call was underscored when yet another gecko sent a message that the Squib should come and cover a development in Justice Candide-Johnson’s court, that had already warranted the presence of Dave Ajetomobi Esq. the chairman of the Ikeja branch of the Nigerian Bar Association.
When the Squib got to the ‘scene of the crime,’ the whole court was in a hub-hub. The judge had repaired to his chambers, working as it turned out to be on the “form and content” of formal contempt proceedings of a gentleman whom the Squib found standing embattled in the criminal dock of the court.
The Squib noticed no less than 30 litigants, who sat quietly in their seats. The lawyers numbered about 20 but only one or two were not in an agitated and upset mood.
The lawyers in different groups were expressing shock and disappointment at the conduct of their colleague in the dock, a lawyer who rejoiced in the name of Oluwatoyin Oluwafemi Uko and who was called to the Bar in December 1991.
According to various sources, trouble started when Barrister Uko suddenly stood up in the bar and in a rather peremptory manner asked the court for the indulgence of having his case called out of turn stating that he had become uncomfortable with the heat in the court room.
The honourable judge in response pointed out that Uko had not cared to beg the permission of senior counsel at the bar to ask for the special treatment, caring to note that the proper way for a junior counsel in Uko’s shoes was to first consult individually with identified seniors in the bar before approaching the bench.
Nonetheless the judge granted the request but a conflict arose when the judge observed that Uko had not filed a counter motion to his opponent’s pending application and yet wanted to join issues on the application.
When Uko would not take the hint of court or listen to the suggestions of some of his colleagues to seek for an adjournment to get time to do the needful, the court ruled that the counsel for the adverse party should move his application.
That was when the real drama began. Oluwatoyin Uko’s reaction to the order of the court was to explode a loud hiss indeed and fling his left arm in the direction of the face of the judge in a clear un-mistakable non verbal gesture of “And so bloody what!”
Shock and bewilderment ran through the bar at Uko’s display but worse was to come. A clearly dismayed Justice Candide-Johnson blurted out, “Are you mad?”
Recovering his composure, the now embattled judge ordered Uko to leave the bar and enter the civilian dock. The lawyer flung down his wig and gown and proceeded to the dock and horror of horrors, unbuckled his wristwatch and attemped to remove his lawyer’s jacket.
Seeing this, the judge ordered him to the criminal dock. The lawyer marched there with the bellicosity of a man prepared for the worst.
The judge, thoroughly embarrassed and scandalized, invited selected counsel, Mr. Babatunde Osilaja, Mr. Ephraim Sam, Mr. Debo Oduguwa and Mr. Dave Ajetomobi to make some comments on the ugly development.
All the four counsel pleaded with the judge to forgive Uko whose behavior all collectively abjured. Meanwhile, Uko was still his defiant, insolent self, disagreeing with all those who found his actions and utterances disagreeable. At this point, the judge rose to retire to his chambers and invited the four counsel who had earlier on addressed him, to join him in chambers.
When The counsel went in and continued pleading with the judge. After about an hour, the honourable judge came out of his chamber and reconvened the court.
The moment of truth came for the hissing lawyer, Oluwatoyin Uko when the registrar of the court read the one count charge of contempt of court prepared by the judge to him and asked him: “Are you guilty or not?”
At this point, the hissing lawyer was sweating profusely even as he peered out of his horn-rimmed glasses. He looked to the right. There was no salvation. He looked to the left. There was no deliverance. He looked up at the ceiling but the face of the Lord was not near. He looked down but the earth refused to swallow him.
For a whole minute, the barrister could not talk. When the judge became impatient with this new found dumbness of Uko and readied himself to record a plea of ” not guilty” and then proceed to sentencing. Uko quickly found his voice.
He was now a transformed man. The cockiness, the brashness, the insolent air, the combativeness with which he had assailed the judge and defied the good counsel of his colleagues earlier on had deserted him.
Between him and the yawning jaws of the ‘government lodge at the Kirikiri prisons, Lagos was but just a step away.
In a broken and cracked voice, the hissing barrister - now whimpering, ate crow and begged in a most pitiable way for the mercy of the court. So abject did he become that he expressed his readiness to salute the court by prostrating right there in the open court to the judge in front of everyone.
The judge at this point called for allocutus for the defendant. Messers Osilaja, Oduguwa, Ephraim Sam and Dave Ajetomobi stood up and joined Uko to plead for mercy.
The honourable judge heard their pleas and struck out the contempt charge against the hissing lawyer who had thoroughly made a public fool of himself and causing his colleagues and indeed litigants in court to seriously question his mental balance.

1 comment:

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