Secretary wins $139,000 judgement against former Opposition Leader
Former Leader of the Opposition Arnhim Eustace has been ordered to pay $139,000 in general damages and costs for slandering his former secretary on a radio station in 2014.
A Master of the High Court, Ermin Moise, released the judgment on the assessment of the damages payable to Rishatha Nicholls on Monday, September 30, more than a year after the court ruled that the former Opposition leader slandered Nicholls.
Eustace has been ordered to pay Nicholls $120,000 for general damages, while the amount of $17,500 is to be paid for prescribed costs and $1500 for the cost of the assessment of the damages.
High Court Justice Esco Henry had ruled that Eustace defamed Nicholls on April 23, and April 24, 2014, by making comments on the Hot 97.1 AM Mayhem radio show that his former secretary of 12 years had been involved in petty theft and corruption.
Henry ruled this, despite Eustace’s lawyers, who were Bertram Commissiong QC, Maia Eustace and Vynnette Frederick, raising defenses of justification, fair comment, and qualified privilege.
When the verdict was delivered on July 12, 2018, Nicholls’ lawyers, Ronald Marks and Patricia Marks-Minors had indicated that they expected damages in the amount of $100,000 to be awarded, based on decided authorities.
Moise, in assessing the damages, noted that the allegations made against Nicholls were grave. “These are allegations of significant criminal misconduct on the part of the claimant. This is made all the more stinging due to the fact that the defendant was the leader of the opposition who was in fact the claimant’s employer.”
“In his own words the defendant highlighted the allegations as something of national interest to the extent that it is an example of the type of corruption he intended to stamp out were he to have succeeded in leading the country’s government,” Moise continued.
The extent of the publication was also considered in that it was spread widely across St Vincent and the Grenadines, and maybe even across the Internet.
Moise further noted that the comments must carry a particular sting and have a negative impact on Nicholls emotionally or otherwise considering Eustace’s position as her former employee.
Nicholls also gave evidence that it had led to broken relationships with family and friends, and she described that her family was a “respectable Christian family” that did not feel comfortable returning to church after the allegations were made.
Nicholls was unable to find employment and this has impacted her finances, she had stated, and because of the delinquent status of her loans, a bank had apparently frozen one of her accounts.
However, the Master noted “For my part, whilst I do appreciate that the public degrading of the claimant in this way would have had a negative impact on her future employment, I do consider that, to some extent, the financial burden she now faces is as a result of her being unlawfully dismissed.”
Therefore, the master also considered that the Department of Labour in 2013 ordered Eustace to pay severance pay in the sum of $16,199.99, after it was ruled that he had wrongfully dismissed Nicholls.
Based on decided cases he felt that the general damages of $120,000 would be appropriate.