Judicial Conduct Commission advised to probe claim judge meddled in Hlophe’s marriage
Cape Town - A judge has recommended that the Judicial Conduct Committee (JCC) set up a tribunal to investigate a claim that Western Cape Deputy Judge President (DJP) Patricia Goliath interfered in Judge President (JP) John Hlophe’s marriage.
Judge Nambitha Dambuza, who had been tasked by the JCC to look into the dispute between Judge Goliath and Judge Gayaat Salie-Hlophe, found that the allegations against Judge Goliath were worth further investigation.
The tribunal’s fact-finding process is meant to produce a report that the Judicial Service Commission will use to determine whether a judge is guilty of gross misconduct, and whether they should be removed from office.
Among the allegations Judge Dambuza thought should be placed before a tribunal were that Judge Goliath had “attempted to influence Salie-Hlophe to lay false criminal charges against Hlophe; encouraged Judge Salie-Hlophe to divorce Hlophe and to stop using his surname; and referred to Judge President Hlophe as an old black man”.
Judge Hlophe is the most senior judge in the Western Cape Division. He was appointed to this position in 2000.
Judge Dambuza said that by the time she was picked by the chairperson of the JCC to conduct the inquiry, two incidents had occurred in relation to the complaint.
Judge Dambuza said: “The first was a media statement released by Judge Salie-Hlophe on January 28, 2020, in which she denied the allegations made by Goliath in her complaint and suggested that she was collateral damage in Goliath’s attack on Hlophe.”
She said: “In that statement, Judge Salie-Hlophe also remarked about what she considered to be an unhealthy obsession of Goliath with her marriage, to the extent that on some occasion Goliath told her to stop using her marital name, Hlophe, and warned her that, if she did not exit her marriage, people would wonder why she was married to an old black man.”
The second event Judge Dambuza referred to was a letter dated February 6, 2020 from Judge Salie-Hlophe’s attorneys to the chairperson of the JCC disputing the allegations made in the complaint.
In January last year, Judge Goliath lodged a complaint of gross misconduct against Hlophe and his wife, Judge Salie-Hlophe, who is also a judge in the Western Cape division.
In her 14-page affidavit, Judge Goliath accused Judge Hlophe and Judge Salie-Hlophe of engaging in conduct that compromised the proper functioning and integrity of the court, and seriously impinged on the court’s dignity.
It was alleged that Judge Salie-Hlophe had assumed enormous power in the division, resulting in some of the judges being afraid of her; that she chose which judges she would sit with on appeals; and that her complaints about certain judges to Judge Goliath had resulted in strained relationships between Judge Goliath and the judges concerned.
Judge Dambuza has suggested that DJP Goliath’s allegations that Judge Salie-Hlophe is improperly involved in the management of the Western Cape division be dismissed.
Judge Dambuza said: “There may be rumblings of dissatisfaction about aspects of management of the division. There may also be an environment of fear and apprehension among the judges of the division or some of them. But I am unable to find that these emanate from misconduct on the part of Judge Salie-Hlophe.”
She said: “From the evidence given by the judges that were allegedly the victims of Judge Salie Hlophe’s conduct, I am not persuaded that a formal oral hearing would yield more concrete evidence and contribute to the determination of the merits of the DJP’s complaint against Judge Salie-Hlophe.”
A researcher at judicial monitoring group Judges Matter, Mbekezeli Benjamin, said: “It is unprecedented for three judges of the same high court to be in such a situation, more so the leadership of the court.”
He said: “Ideally, they should voluntarily take long leave until this issue is resolved. They can only be transferred if they request the transfer themselves.”