Thema goes after gymnastics federation for $$$ from 2018 judgment

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

COURT WIN: Gymnast Thema Williams with her attorneys Martin Daly, SC, and Keith Scotland, left, at the Hall of Justice in Port of Spain in November 2018. File photo/Sureash Cholai

FORMER national gymnast Thema Williams has initiated garnishee proceedings against the TT Gymnastics Federation (TTGF) for the judgment debt still owed to her four years after a High Court judge ordered the federation to compensate her.

On November 26, 2018, Justice Frank Seepersad said Williams was entitled to $200,000 for loss of endorsements and other opportunities because of the federation’s “biased” and flawed decision to withdraw her from representing this country in the 2016 Rio Olympics. She was replaced with Canadian-born alternate Marisa Dick.

The court-ordered compensation was a fraction of what Williams asked for – her claim was for $11 million – but Seepersad ordered $150,000 in exemplary damages and $50,000 for loss of opportunity to earn promotional income.

Four years on the money is yet to be paid, and the sum owed to Williams has ballooned to $238,490.90 by virtue of the five per cent interest from the date of judgment.

On October 3, Williams’s attorneys, Darrell Allahar and Reza Ramjohn began the garnishee proceedings against the TTGF and sought a provisional order – which the judge granted – for a temporary freeze on at least one of the federation’s accounts at Republic Bank Ltd (RBL) to cover the judgment debt, interest and costs.

If granted, the garnishee order will allow the federation’s bankers to surrender money to settle the debt.

The bank is represented by attorney Tonya Rowley and affidavits are expected to be filed by the institution on the funds in the federation’s account to satisfy the judgment debt.

On Thursday, the federation’s attorney Farai Hove Maisasai asked Seepersad not to finalise the provisional order, as his clients wanted to put in an affidavit to account for the funds in the RBL account. Maisasai said preliminary instructions from the federation are that the money in the account was given by the State as funding for a specific purpose and “not to be paid at will.”

The attorney also said there was no need for the bank to put in evidence, but the judge rejected this, saying the court preferred the evidence of the federation’s financial status to come from its bankers.

“I am not on the issue of the purpose of the money. They can say how much money is in the account. The onus is on the federation to say it shouldn’t be subject to the court’s order,” the judge said.

Named as defendants in the proceedings are the TTGF, its former directors, and the bank.

Seepersad said he was quite alarmed that a decision given in November 2018 had not yet been satisfied.

“Compliance with the rule of law is mandatory. For the defendant and particularly the first defendant (TTGF) (to) be in default of a court judgment for nearly four years is unacceptable.”

He gave the federation a week to file its affidavit and until October 21 to file submissions of law and facts, before the next hearing on October 27, when the judge is expected to rule.

Until then, his provisional order remains in effect.

Allahar and Rowley also told the judge they will both be making a cost application.

In her legal battle with the federation, Williams said the decision to withdraw her from the Olympic test event was harsh and oppressive, flawed and biased against her.

Williams, by virtue of her higher score at the World Championships in Glasgow, was given the nod over Marisa Dick to compete at the Olympic Test event – Aquece Final Gymnastics Qualifier – in April 2016. She and her coach John Geddert were in Brazil preparing for the Olympic qualifier when the TTGF decided to replace her with Dick.

Williams claimed the federation told Geddert she was withdrawn because she was injured, a claim she denied.

Dick was flown in from Canada and eventually qualified as the first person to represent TT in gymnastics at the Olympics.