Judicial Conduct Committee finds prima facie gross misconduct by Judge Mushtak Parker

The Judicial Conduct Committee has recommended that Western Cape Judge Mushtak Parker face an impeachable conduct tribunal to investigate whether he has brought the judiciary into disrepute.

“The two complaints will, if established, prima facie indicate gross misconduct on the part of the respondent,” said Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, who is the committee’s acting chairperson. 

Parker has been accused of two different incidents of dishonesty, which — if found to be true — are “extremely serious”, Zondo said in written reasons from the committee.

The first complaint came from 10 of his colleagues on the Western Cape high court bench. Parker is the judge alleged to have been assaulted by Judge-President John Hlophe, in an incident that is at the centre of a related fight between Hlophe and his deputy, Patricia Goliath

Goliath has made her own judicial misconduct complaint against Hlophe, accusing him of a range of misconduct — including having assaulted Parker. In answer to her complaint, the judge president denied the claim. He also said that he had shown this part of his affidavit to “the judge concerned” who agreed. 

But, said Parker’s colleagues, Parker had told a number of them that he had indeed been assaulted. He had even deposed to an affidavit saying as much in the presence of colleague Judge Derek Wille, they said. There were now two “mutually destructive” versions he had given.

The committee said that when it met to consider the complaints Parker had not attended the meeting. But “on these facts, if the first complaint is established, the position will be that the respondent has no explanation for giving these contradictory versions, one of which has to be untrue”, said Zondo.

He emphasised that the committee’s job was to look at the allegations only on a prima facie basis. 

“To the extent that there may not have been any assault on the respondent [Parker] by Judge-President Hlophe, it would mean that the respondent went around telling a number of Judges that the Judge-President had assaulted him when he knew quite well that there had been no such assault,” said Zondo.

On the other hand “to the extent that there may have been an assault on him by Judge-President Hlophe, it would mean that, when he confirmed Judge-President Hlophe’s version, he did so with the full knowledge that he was corroborating a version that he knew to be untrue.” 

This would be seen as “extremely serious, particularly because he is a judge”, the committee said.

The second complaint came from the Western Cape advocate body, the Cape Bar Council. The council complained that when Parker applied to be a judge, he had given dishonest answers to the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) in a questionnaire aspirant judges complete ahead of their interview.

Judge Parker had been an attorney before he was appointed a judge. At the firm at which he practiced as a partner before his appointment there had been a long-term deficit in the firm’s trust account — because of misappropriation of trust monies, which is a breach of attorneys’ ethical rules. Not reporting it when you have knowledge of it is also an ethical breach. 

Yet when the JSC questionnaire asked if there were any circumstances, financial or otherwise, that may cause embarrassment if he were to become a judge, Parker replied: “No.”

The committee said that if this were to be established it would be potentially impeachable: “The respondent’s failure to disclose in his nomination questionnaire and in the interview before the JSC that the trust account of his law firm had had a deficit for a long time while he was the managing director is extremely serious,” said Zondo.

The committee’s recommendation must now go to the JSC, which, if it agrees with the committee, would then request its chairperson, Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, to establish a Judicial Conduct Tribunal to investigate potentially impeachable conduct.

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

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