/ 9 September 2009

Motata will be back at work soon, court hears

North Gauteng High Court Judge Nkola Motata will on Wednesday afternoon be handed his sentence for drunken driving in the Johannesburg Magistrate’s Court.

Pending any appeals, this will mark the end of a trial which 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.

Earlier on Wednesday, during sentencing procedures, Motata’s defence lawyer said he would shortly be back at work.

”He will be back on duty once this case is finalised,” defence counsel Bantubonke Tokota said during arguments in mitigation of sentence.

Tokota said the conviction had been a ”heavy blow” for Motata.

”He has been out of office for two years. He would like to go back to work.”

State prosecutor Zaais van Zyl said the usual sentence for the crime was a fine of up to R120 000 or a six-year jail sentence.

He asked for Motata’s sentence to be a ”moderate” fine of about R10 000, part of which could be suspended.

”The sentence must be something that hurts, something that reminds.”

He also raised the possibility of suspending Motata’s driving licence.

”The seriousness of the offence really goes without saying,” he said.

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.

Tokota asked for a ”wholly” suspended sentence saying Motata had money woes which left him ”in a position” where he could not afford to pay 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 Desmond Nair.

Tokota said it should be taken into account that Motata was a first offender and had been involved in the legal fraternity for a long time.

”The accused has for 62 years and seven months not been convicted of any offence. That counts heavily in his favour.”

Needing to interrupt his argument to check several personal details with his client, Tokota even at one stage tried — before being stopped by the magistrate — to consult with Motata about what kind of fine he could possibly afford.

Tokota said Motata was married with two children, with his son studying his final year of a law degree at Unisa and a 35-year-old married daughter working at MTN.

Motata studied at Fort Hare and was an attorney from 1976 to 1984. He then joined the Johannesburg Bar as an advocate.

He also served on a panel of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

In April 1999 Motata was appointed as an acting judge and became a judge in 2000.

”He is one of the most senior judges in the Transvaal Provincial Divisions,” said Tokota.

He also said the accident happened on a weekend, when Motata was off-duty during a ”quiet time” with no traffic.

Tokota said Motata was put through ”trauma” because as a judge he was ”treated differently” during the case. Tokota cited the length of the trial as an example of this.

”That was a burden on him. He would like it to come to an end.”

While Van Zyl said the court had not seen atonement on the part of Motata during the trial, Tokota disagreed.

”He has actually learned a lesson through this thing.”

When Nair adjourned court shortly after 10am to consider a sentence, Tokota made a plea that the sentence be given before the end of Wednesday, citing money matters as the reason.

”It costs no less than R40 000 a day [for counsel representation].” — Sapa