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Durban - The former owner of a Durban North children’s shelter, on charges of facilitating illegal adoptions, had the justice system “over a barrel”, a magistrate remarked on Tuesday.
Durban regional court magistrate Trevor Levitt was supposed to preside over the two-week trial of Hester Elizabeth van Schalkwyk.
But, in spite of the witnesses being present and the court having a clear diary, the case could not continue because Van Schalkwyk handed in doctors’ certificates claiming she had had a knee operation last week and now needed treatment for a heart condition and a blood transfusion.
She had also not been able to pay her lawyers because she had been “recently widowed” and was fighting to keep her home.
On top of this, she told Levitt yesterday, she was no longer happy with her attorney and wanted to hire a new one.
“You have got this court over a barrel… I reluctantly have to agree to an adjournment because, should we run this trial and you are convicted, you will appeal and we do not want a technicality to interfere with the administration of justice,” the magistrate said.
Van Schalkwyk limped into court on crutches after being ordered to appear yesterday morning when she failed to appear on Monday.
The magistrate said he had been told Van Schalkwyk had come to court the previous week to hand in a medical certificate but “at first blush” he was not satisfied that she could not attend court and sit through her trial.
And then yesterday morning, she arrived with a further certificate about treatment for a heart condition and a blood transfusion and a letter “in which she expressed concern that her relationship with her attorney (Ramond) Samuel had broken down”.
The magistrate also questioned her erstwhile advocate Paul Jorgensen about why he had put on record a year ago that a trial date could be set because funds were available to pay him.
Jorgensen said his briefing attorney had given him such an assurance.
“So such an assurance is worthless?” the magistrate asked, a suggestion with which Jorgensen agreed, saying that he could not take funds directly from a client.
Van Schalkwyk, who at previous court appearances claimed to be recovering from major surgery, suffering from anaemia, hypertension and depression, undertook that at her next court appearance she would have her new attorney in tow and money would be available to engage Jorgensen again.
She will appear in court again on May 2 when a new trial date should be set.
Van Schalkwyk, who ran the Survivors’ Sanctuary in Durban North, was arrested after a Carte Blanche report in which it was alleged she had tried to sell a brother and sister to several couples in 2011.
The home was subsequently shut down by the social welfare department and the children were placed in care.
She is on bail of R5 000.