Motata to appeal drunken-driving ruling

The protracted drunken-driving trial of North Gauteng High Court Judge Nkola Motata is not over yet as his defence indicated on Wednesday he will apply for leave to appeal in the Johannesburg Magistrate’s Court.

“He is not happy. That’s why he is instructing [to apply for leave to appeal],” defence lawyer Bantubonke Tokota told reporters after the court adjourned.

“We have been instructed to appeal against both the conviction and sentence.”

Motata was sentenced to a R20 000 fine or 12 months’ imprisonment for drunken driving by Magistrate Desmond Nair in the Johannesburg Magistrate’s Court on Wednesday.

Motata was last week found guilty of drunken driving. He crashed his vehicle into the perimeter wall of a property in Hurlingham, north of Johannesburg, while drunk in January 2007.

The trial has lasted more than two years and been marked by several delays, including Motata changing his defence team twice and a trial within a trial to determine the admissibility of audio recording evidence later used to convict him.

In sentencing Motata on Wednesday, Nair said that while the accident happened in a quiet area with no traffic, “it could have happened anywhere else with high traffic volumes or pedestrians”.

He said after Motata’s plea of not guilty the court went through a “significantly long trial”.

Nair said Motata’s driver’s licence would not be suspended—even though there was an option to do so—as he needed to travel to complete work on the circuit court.

He said Motata was a first time offender.
“He stumbled and it is a pity ...

“Judges, magistrates ... to laymen are all equal before court,” said Nair.

He then asked Motata to rise, which the sombre-faced judge did.

“You are sentenced to a fine of R20 000 or 12 months’ imprisonment,” Nair said.

After a short adjournment, court resumed with Nair explaining that the defence had approached him in chambers to ask for the chance to appeal for the fine to be deferred as well as to apply for leave to appeal.

The court heard the deferment application immediately, with Tokota asking that Motata be allowed to pay the fine in four instalments of R5 000 each.

Nair, however, ruled that Motata could pay R10 000 by the end of October and the other R10 000 by the end of November.

Prosecutor Zaais van Zyl said Motata had a right to appeal.

“It’s only ordinary criminal law procedure.”

The state would oppose the application, he said.

The date of the application is expected to be decided early next week.

“It’s very difficult for him to pay”
Earlier, Tokota argued in mitigation of sentence that Motata was “not in a position” to afford the payment of a fine.

“It’s very difficult for him to pay if he gets a fine.”

He said legal fees, which already amounted to close to R1-million, would be Motata’s fine.

“He’s gone through that heavy fine, legal fees were enormous.”

If a fine was given, Tokota asked for the fine to be deferred.

Questioned by the magistrate, Tokota said Motata did not have to pay for repairs to his Jaguar S series which he crashed in the incident.

He said while Motata had not worked during the trial, he had been remunerated.

Tokota said judges like Motata earned very low salaries.

“The salary that he earned ... is very low. I don’t even consider going to the bench.

“I earn more than 10 times what they earn,” said Tokota.

“Maybe I should come over to your side,” quipped magistrate Nair.

At one stage, Tokota also pleaded with Nair to finish the sentencing by Wednesday, because he said defence costs were “no less than 40 000 a day”.

However, when asked by reporters after court ended—if an appeal would not cause Motata to suffer from more financial problems—Tokota said there was a distinction between having financial problems and being financially drained.

“It has drained him financially. I didn’t say he is suffering financial problems.

“You have to pay a lot of money, the question of whether you have the money is something else.”

Asked whether Motata was concerned about reports that his job might be under question, Tokota said: “We are all concerned.”

However, he said this had “nothing to do with the trial or merits.

“What is in drunken driving? There is nothing impeachable in it as far as we are concerned.”

Tokota said despite the appeal process, Motata wanted to return to work.

“He still wants to go back to work ... it will depend on the authorities”

Tokota also said accusations that Motata had lied in court were false.

“The judge was never found lying. He never gave evidence. There is not evaluation of his evidence ... There can’t be any findings. He is entitled to plead not guilty.”

Tokota said the defence had no regrets that Motata had not testified.—Sapa

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