US court rejects motion to expedite Piarco appeal hearing

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Attorney General Reginald Armour SC at a media conference on Wednesday at his Port of Spain office. Photo by Jeff K Mayers

The Appeal Court in Florida on Thursday denied a motion to expedite an appeal filed by the government.

The appeal seeks to challenge the decision to automatically disqualify the Attorney General and a US law firm in a multi-million-dollar civil-asset forfeiture case linked to the construction of Piarco Airport terminal building 22 years ago.

The appeal was filed on June 1, after Miami Dade Circuit Court judge Reemberto Diaz struck out AG Reginald Armour, SC, and US law firm Sequor Law on the basis of Armour’s previous connection to one of the defendants on trial.

Armour said he disclosed his apparent conflict of interest to Sequor Law at his initial meeting on March 30, two weeks after his appointment, and was relying on the firm’s legal advice. He nevertheless still signed off on several related matters, including an agreement for a co-operating witness to testify against the Piarco accused in criminal proceedings in Trinidad and Tobago, settlement of invoices of the law firm, among other matters.

Former government minister Brian Kuei Tung, whom Armour once represented in TT, filed a motion to strike out the lawsuit and disqualify Armour and the law firm on April 13.

In a sworn affidavit, Armour claimed he was “walled off” by the law firm after he disclosed he had been one of Kuei Tung’s lawyers. He described himself in that affidavit as a junior lawyer who had a minimal role in his client’s defence. The public record conflicts with the AG’s recollection.

On June 20, Armour admitted he had had a lapse in memory when he filed his affidavit on April 24, and was prepared to correct the record on April 27, while the US court was sitting to hear the motions, even though he was on vacation in Europe.

An examination of the court’s transcript of April 27 does not reflect any attempt to correct the court record by the US attorneys representing TT, although former attorney general Faris Al-Rawi attended the hearing as the substitute client representative for TT after Armour recused himself.

The US judge rejected the motion to strike out the entire lawsuit.

The government has since hired another law firm to prosecute the case, and Al-Rawi will oversee it. Some $30 million of taxpayers’ money spent on fees to Sequor Law is unrecoverable, according to government sources.

The Law Association has launched an investigation into the AG’s conduct and the membership intends to vote on a motion of no confidence against him. The Opposition has also filed a motion of no confidence against the AG in the House of Representatives.

The 18-year-old trial in Miami is scheduled to come up for hearing in September. No date has been set for the appeal.