Sat | Jun 15, 2024

He has no standing

Johnson Smith declares former FBI agent has no legal grounds to file lawsuit regarding failed Commonwealth secretary-general bid

Published:Sunday | June 4, 2023 | 2:02 AMLivern Barrett - Senior Staff Reporter
Senator Kamina Johnson-Smith
Senator Kamina Johnson-Smith
Wilfred Rattigan
Wilfred Rattigan
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Jamaican-born retired United States law enforcement agent Wilfred Rattigan does not have the legal standing to file a lawsuit over private donations to Foreign Affairs Minister Kamina Johnson Smith’s failed bid for the post of Commonwealth...

Jamaican-born retired United States law enforcement agent Wilfred Rattigan does not have the legal standing to file a lawsuit over private donations to Foreign Affairs Minister Kamina Johnson Smith’s failed bid for the post of Commonwealth Secretary General, she has asserted.

But Rattigan, a former special agent with the US Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), confirmed to The Sunday Gleaner last week that although he is a US citizen, he has not renounced his Jamaican citizenship, giving him legal right to file the suit.

Johnson Smith, her Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Ministry as well as the Ministry of Finance and the Public Service last week filed applications in the Supreme Court asking a judge to throw out Rattigan’s lawsuit.

In an affidavit accompanying her application, Johnson Smith argued that Rattigan, who was born and raised in Waterhouse, St Andrew, does not appear to have “sufficient interest” to file the claim, court documents have revealed.

Lawyers for her ministry and the finance ministry, which were named as respondents in Rattigan’s lawsuit filed two months ago, also took a similar stance, arguing that Rattigan does not have the locus standi to file the claim.

Johnson Smith, who is also a Senator, insisted, too, that “at no time did I receive any gift, in either my personal or official capacity” and that she derived no personal benefit from the financing of the campaign.

“While I, as a government official, am answerable to the Jamaican public for acts done in my public calling, those answers are restricted to bona fide concerns,” she said in the affidavit obtained by The Sunday Gleaner.

Further, she said all the issues raised by Rattigan in his affidavit have already been answered in Parliament and, as a result, his lawsuit “cannot be seen to have been brought before this honourable court in good faith”.

‘An abuse of the court’s process’

Matthew Gabbadon, the attorney for the two government ministries named as respondents, described Rattigan’s lawsuit as “vexatious, frivolous and otherwise an abuse of the court’s process”.

“As such, it is prudent to have this matter struck out rather than to embark on litigation that will cost the parties time, resources and money,” he argued.

Banking executive Keith Duncan and Jamaican conglomerates GraceKennedy and Musson Group contributed to the payment of US$99,000, or J$15 million, to the American firm Finn Partners for public relations services provided to Johnson Smith’s campaign, de facto Information Minister Robert Morgan disclosed last September.

Other donors did not consent to having their names disclosed, Morgan said.

Rattigan’s lawsuit was filed in April this year after he waited months for the finance ministry to respond to an access to information (ATI) request for details about the payment, including the related gift acceptance form and due-diligence report detailing the source of the funds, he told this newspaper.

The request was made through the provisions of Section 9.3 of the Financial Administration and Audit Act (FAAA) and Ministry of Finance Circular Number 17, which was issued on June 10, 2013.

“Please be advised that no documentation exists within the Ministry of Finance and the Public Service to satisfy your request,” the ministry responded to him in a letter dated March 23 this year.

As a result, Rattigan went to court seeking a declaration that both Johnson Smith and her ministry did not comply with the FAAA and the finance ministry’s directive that required them to report the donation as a gift.

The lawsuit, which was filed by attorney Sophia Bryan, also seeks a declaration that the finance ministry “failed to take appropriate action to compel” Johnson Smith and her ministry to “comply with the applicable statutory and administrative regulations”.

A notation on the document indicated that it was also filed on behalf of “Jamaicans”, including those in the diaspora.

Does not meet the criteria

But in a counter-move, lawyers representing Johnson Smith, her ministry and the Ministry of Finance went to court last month to have the lawsuit struck out.

Citing the court’s civil procedure rules, Gabbadon argued that Rattigan does not meet the criteria to be a representative party.

“There is no order from the court appointing the claimant as a representative of Jamaicans in the diaspora and Jamaica,” Gabbadon said in his affidavit.

“I did not give the applicant permission to institute these proceedings on my behalf,” he added.

‘I derived no benefit’

Johnson Smith noted that the campaign for Commonwealth Secretary General was “outside” her official roles and was not spearheaded by her ministry.

She insisted, too, that the payment to Finn Partners by third parties from the private sector was in support of a “Jamaican Government-sponsored activity”.

“I derived no benefit from either the funds expended by the Jamaican Government or from the private sector. It was the Jamaican Government that derived the benefit of consultancy services towards its campaign to have me, its candidate, elected Commonwealth Secretary General,” said Johnson Smith, who lost to incumbent Baroness Patricia Scotland by a 27-24 margin in the last year June election.

Johnson Smith argued that based on advice from her attorneys, the issues raised in Rattigan’s lawsuit are matters of foreign policy that are “non-judiciable” and urged the court not to exercise its jurisdiction.

The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear the applications on October 26.

livern.barrett@gleanerjm.com