July 16, 2010

Overcoming Corruption, Just this once... Maybe. Just Maybe.

A few years ago, our company was ordered to pay the current equivalent of $350,000 in an employment lawsuit. I blogged about it at the time. “Do me A Favor, Don’t do me any Favors.”

The case reeked with corruption from day one. The judge in the original case even mentioned to us that “If I were a judge in a bigger city, you would need to pay $10,000 (equivalent) just to talk to me.” He added that if we heard that he had met privately with our opponents that we should know that he is open to meet with everyone (for those not used to corruption lingo that means “I am open to an offer from you if it is better than theirs.”) We were naïve and had not understood the message. In any case, he rendered judgment against us without any basis in law or fact. After the judgment, he suggested that we should find a suitable settlement amount. We chose to appeal.

To handle the appeal, we so distrusted the lawyers in that area of the country that we decided to retain a lawyer in Europe who was also a member of the local Bar Association. We were right to do so. While preparing the appeal, our lawyer discovered that our counsel in the lower court case had actually been the lawyer for the opposing side during the period the case had been hidden from us! This had never been disclosed by either the lawyer or the judge.

During the appeal, our European based lawyer just could not understand how the judge had rendered such an obviously incorrect judgment. To assist him, he had a local partner. But he did not have full confidence in his own partner. So at each hearing, he sent us the submissions and asked us to send a representative to the court…. Just in case.

For the final arguments, our European based lawyer flew in and very eloquently pleaded our case for over an hour. The opposing counsel never said a word. Strange. The case was sent for deliberation by the panel of three judges.

Then month after month, the decision was postponed. No reason, just postponed. This went on for 8 long months. We know that long delays in rendering decisions are usually a call for the highest bidder. We also know that our opponents were willing to be very generous with judges and were not overly bothered with pleading their case or submitting evidence. Our lawyer's intense pleadings had seemed quite out of place in en environment where law and facts are not usually part of the equation.

After some time, we stopped sending our own representative to the Court because it was a waste of time and travel expenses so we relied on our European counsel’s local partner. So when a hearing was scheduled yesterday to announce the decision, we did not send anyone.

For a reason that we will better understand one day, our European counsel’s local partner decided not to show up. We had no idea therefore, if a decision had been rendered, and if so, what it was. Worse, the local partner stated that he would be unavailable to check on the decision until next week. It is important to note that the local partner is based in the area where the court is located and he could have easily sent someone or called the court to get the information .Our European based lawyer also got worried. We were afraid that judgment had been rendered against us and that the local partner was colluding with the opposing side to give them time to execute the judgment. Paranoia.

So we decided to send someone to the court today. Unbelievably, the court clerk had decided not to come to work and our file was locked in her office. Reached by telephone, she said she was “tired.” Yes, judgment had been rendered yesterday, but she could not remember what it was (our case was the most important employment case in several years..but she did not pay attention as she was writing out the decision). She asked that we return on Monday.

In a normal environment, one would just go away and come back but it our own legal system, court clerks never miss work unless they are paid to do so by a party in court’ Usually, to allow them to either execute the judgment or to allow an application for a stay of execution. (I have learned a lot since 2006).

Thinking quickly on his feet, the person we sent to the Court explained to her colleagues that he would need to send for a bailiff to record that on a business day, he was unable to obtain information on a judgment from the Court of Appeals. He said that since he had been paid travel expenses, his bosses would never believe that no one could give him the information. Within 5 minutes, the Chief Registrar called the Court clerk and she showed up 30 minutes later.

Strangely (and happily of course), the judgment was in our favor. The judgment from the lower court was set aside. We don’t know what the games were about but we will surely discover eventually. One can become so paranoid that it really could be that the local lawyer was unavailable and the court clerk was too tired to come to work. I would like to say that our mind has become so twisted that we think everyone is corrupt and the whole legal system is set against us but somehow, something still seems fishy. Update coming…


  1. What an incredible saga. And what a constant psychological drain it must be to have to question the institutions and infrastructure that are supposed to protect you and your business. I imagine it must be somewhat frightening to know that you have so little recourse when you are wronged. The fact that you're still there (wherever you are) speaks either of great courage or great altruism, and likely both. All the best to you and do keep updating this blog, you have an attentive audience of at least 1.

  2. I meant to sign the above comment "M. M."

  3. Absolutely unbelievable. I feel deeply for your company's ordeals, and I wish it the best. Hopefully you'll stick it out in Africa for a bit more!...

  4. I've fallen love with your posts and I truly believe that "doing the right thing is so costly, so exhausting that it becomes costly". Stay strong.

  5. Thanks so much. Still plugging away. And exhausted I am.

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