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Rude magistrate in hot water

Published Sep 22, 2014

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Johannesburg - The conduct of a senior regional court magistrate has once again been referred to the Magistrate’s Commission for “appropriate disciplinary measures” for telling a prosecutor not to ask stupid questions, and telling a witness to stop their “verbal diarrhoea”.

The conduct of Benoni magistrate Mitzi Schutte contributed to an alleged car thief, Leon Smith – sentenced by her to seven years in jail – walking free following his appeal to the Gauteng Provincial Division of the High Court, sitting in Pretoria.

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Judge Cynthia Pretorius said Schutte was downright rude to the prosecution, accused and defence. It was clear that Smith did not receive a fair trial before Schutte.

Judge Pretorius cited verbatim phrases from the trial record to prove her point that the magistrate was rude.

Magistrate Schutte had insisted the prosecutor remove the word “lost” from the charge sheet. She knew English was not his first language, but said: “… Oh, for crying out, loose the lost…”

Another time she had asked whether he had “brought his thoughts” with him to court, telling him not to ask “stupid” questions.

The accused was not spared a tongue lashing, as she asked him whether he had suffered a brain freeze.

She also told him there was a “point of stupidity, which cannot be surpassed”, adding if he was “certifiable” he shouldn’t be in court.

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The defence lawyer received the same medicine: “Please sir, I sometimes feel you think the court… does not have a brain.”

Judge Pretorius said it was clear from the record that the tone of the magistrate throughout the proceedings did not instill confidence in her fairness, as she was impatient, rude and derogatory.

In the past, several judges have also complained about the magistrate’s conduct which resulted in three convicted murderers walking free on appeal owing to an unfair trial.

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In one case she addressed a witness as “Hey Wena” and made remarks such as “crying in a bucket”.

Danie Schoeman of the Magistrate’s Commission said those complaints would be probed.

The Star

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