Hlophe: Goliath’s ‘false allegations’ amount to gross misconduct

When Western Cape Deputy Judge President Patricia Goliath mentioned the name of former president Jacob Zuma in her gross misconduct complaint against Judge President John Hlophe, she was “deliberately creating hype and drama,” Hlophe said.

“The reference to former president Zuma is an irresponsible and manufactured false allegation made simply to spice up the gravity of the case against me,” said Hlophe.

Hlophe was responding to the shocking complaint made in January by Goliath, to the Judicial Service Commission (JSC). He has also made his own counter-complaint, saying that her false allegations against him damaged the administration of justice.

“A judge seeking the removal of another on false allegations commits a grave offence to the integrity of the judicial office and brings the administration of justice into disrepute. It is this conduct that constitutes gross judicial misconduct,” he said.

In her complaint Goliath had made a host of allegations against Hlophe. They included that he had sought — using his power to decide which judges would hear which cases — to influence the outcome of a case in favour of Zuma.

She also claimed that he had assaulted a junior colleague in chambers, that he had sidelined her and created a climate of fear and intimidation in the division; that his wife Gayaat Salie-Hlophe (also a judge of the division) wielded undue power in the division, particularly in the appointment of acting judges. And, that in an altercation with his wife at his Cape Town home, Salie-Hlophe’s hand had been injured to a point where stitches were required.   

My comment was not that I wanted to allocate a case to people who would favour Zuma. I simply wanted to encourage her to diversity and consider transformation in the allocation of cases

Western Cape Judge President John Hlophe

In a detailed 100-page affidavit sent to the JSC on Friday, Hlophe said Goliath’s claims were “largely false and without merit”. In addition, the way she went about her complaint suggested that “her chief anxiety was to invoke public condemnation, the lynching of the Judge President and to bring extravagant political pressure on him.” 

On the Earthlife case — the case about nuclear deals entered into by South Africa and which Goliath said Hlophe had tried to influence — Hlophe gave a different version of  his conversation with Goliath about which judges to allocate to the case. He said she had first suggested two white male judges to preside, “but I thought it important to establish a transformed and diverse bench”. One of the two also had “generally very strong views about government policy” and “routinely engaged the public” on them. 

“My comment was not that I wanted to allocate a case to people who would favour Zuma. I simply wanted to encourage her to diversity and consider transformation in the allocation of cases,” Hlophe said.  

He said the reference to Zuma was “a very low point” in Goliath’s complaint, as she was deliberately “perpetuat[ing] the narrative that I was under his control” — given the allegations in an earlier complaint by the justices of the Constitutional Court. 

Hlophe was here referring to the 2008 complaint by all the then justices of the ConCourt that he had sought to influence the outcome of pending cases related to corruption charges against Zuma. Nearly 12 years later, the complaint remains unresolved, with a judicial conduct tribunal still to get underway.

Hlophe said: “She is wrong as [are] those that have made similar allegations. I remain an independent minded judge who is guided only by my oath of office and the Constitution.”

The judge president also gave a detailed version of what had happened between him and the junior colleague that Goliath alleged he assaulted. Also not naming him, Hlophe said that the junior judge had at first had a confrontation with his wife, Salie-Hlophe, but that it had been amicably resolved — “and remain good friends even today”. A few days later — after the unnamed judge had also sought to speak to the judge president about the issue — Hlophe went to his chambers. 

“I indicated to him that I appreciated his apology to my wife and cautioned him against being perceived to be inappropriate in his interactions with women colleagues. In our discussion, we disagreed on a related issue involving the fact that I am an African, from KwaZulu and married to a Muslim woman,” Hlophe said. 

They did not speak for a few days after, he said, but then some colleagues mediated between them. “Thereafter we shook hands and that was the end of the matter. To date, all of us remain good friends and in fact the issue that we had disagreed on is one that we now share a good laugh about.”

Hlophe said that the dispute was a private one and had nothing to do with judicial work. Later in his affidavit, he specifically says: “It is incorrect that my disagreement with this particular judge resulted in a physical assault.”

Hlophe also strenuously denied the insinuation that he assaulted Salie-Hlophe, saying that she was “injured by cutting herself against a glass door”.

However he said it was true that he was angry with Goliath when she next came to see him in his chambers and that he had asked her to leave. “It is this meddlesome, intrusive and nosy conduct by the Deputy Judge President in my private affairs that has created a climate of distrust and acrimony in our professional relationship,” said Hlophe. He added that Goliath had encouraged Salie-Hlophe to  “file charges of a fake assault” and “divorce this old black man and drop the black surname.”

Goliath had betrayed him, he said. “What is worse to this betrayal is that she has made false of what happened to my wife when she took her to hospital. The innuendo that I assaulted my wife is a deeply offensive untruth which has led to my public lynching,” said Hlophe.

Hlophe also denied that Salie-Hlophe had anything to do with appointing acting judges — which by law was the function of the justice minister in any event — or the allocation of cases. Many of her claims were not backed up with evidence, he said. 

Setting out in detail the factors he considered when making allocations, he said that this was the prerogative of the judge president. In law, it was the judge president who ran a division, although the JP — “at his/her discretion” — could delegate functions and tasks to the deputy, said Hlophe. “Deputy Judge President Goliath seems to have an inflated sense of self and a misguided belief that she could take over or even cherry-pick on powers assigned to the Judge President.” 

Goliath declined to comment, saying the matter was in the hands of the JSC. 

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Franny Rabkin
Franny Rabkin
Franny is the legal reporter at the Mail & Guardian
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