Senior Western Cape High Court judge Siraj Desai has come out in defence of controversial advocate Nehemiah Ballem’s character, saying Ballem had always “displayed the utmost respect” to the court.
Judge Lee Bozalek, at whom Ballem swore in court on Friday, has referred the matter to the Cape Bar Council and the National Prosecuting Authority.
Speaking to the Cape Times on Wednesday, Judge Desai said that Ballem had appeared before him as an advocate on several occasions, including a stint as defence counsel in a long-running matter in Vredendal. “He has always been courteous. He has displayed the utmost respect for me personally as well as decorum for the court,” said Judge Desai.
“At all times, he conducted himself in an impeccable manner.” Judge Desai added that the complaint lodged against Ballem was “inconsistent with his usual demeanour”.
After Judge Bozalek questioned Ballem about his late arrival at court, Ballem replied in Afrikaans: “Jou ma se p**s, man, f**k you!”
Judge Bozalek has declined to comment further on the matter. Said Desai: “I can only imagine what precipitated Ballem’s reaction.
“Mr Ballem comes from a particularly humble background. I do not believe he would deliberately place his hard-earned place in the profession on the line.
“On the other hand … such conduct undermines confidence in our courts and cannot be tolerated.
“I suppose one would have to take a balanced view when deciding what steps should be taken when dealing with it.”
Meanwhile, Cape Bar Council chairman Alasdair Sholto-Douglas confirmed that the council had received a complaint from Judge Bozalek.
He said it had already gone to the Bar’s disciplinary officers. “Because of the nature of the complaint - it was lodged by a judge - it will be handled by the full Bar Council immediately,” he said, adding that on the face of it, it was a “very serious matter”.
“We have a transcript and we are having a meeting tonight to consider what steps to take,” he said.
“Ballem has been invited to attend the meeting. We have not as yet heard his side of the story.”
Asked whether he knew Ballem, Sholto-Douglas said while they had spoken, he did not know him well.
“I would, however, say his behaviour (before Judge Bozalek) did strike me as out of character,” he said.
The Directorate of Public Prosecutions in the Western Cape declined to confirm or deny receipt of the complaint.
While Ballem was repeatedly contacted by the Cape Times, his cellphone went directly to voicemail and his secretary said he was unavailable.
She could not say when he would return. “Maybe he will be back today, maybe he won’t,” she said.
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