Judge Ephraim Makgoba
A stern reprimand has been given to Judge Ephraim Makgoba, the Judge President of the Limpopo High Court.

He has been slammed as engaging in “conduct unbecoming of a judge” in a scathing judgment by the Judicial Conduct Committee (JCC).

This relates to a threatening comment Judge Makgoba is said to have made to advocate Tsundzuka Maluleke in June 2016 that he would “deal” with the lawyer “legally and professionally” in a matter which was before his court. 

The issue was over a phone call the judge made to Maluleke after an urgent matter involving Eskom.

Judge Makgoba - in a threatening manner, according to the JCC - asked the advocate why the matter had been set for the Limpopo Provincial Division instead of Thohoyandou Local, closer to Eskom’s offices.

The ruling said Judge Makgoba asked Maluleke whether his four clients from Limpopo Legal Solutions (LSS), who were fighting Eskom for cutting their electricity supply, could not have brought the application on their own.

Maluleke then responded that his clients were an NGO whose aim was to promote and protect human rights.

This retort by the advocate is said to have drawn the ire of Judge Makgoba, who responded angrily by “insinuating” that LSS had “an agenda to milk the state institutions by (these) type of organisations”.

“You are talking rubbish and I am going to deal with you legally and professionally in the same manner in which I am dealing with advocate Tebeilla and his institution, and will inform other judges to deal with Limpopo Legal Solutions,” Judge Makgoba was found to have said.

But in a judgment, Deputy Chief Justice Ray Zondo, who is also the JCC’s chairperson, said the language which Judge Makgoba used during that phone conversation was heavily rebuked.

“In our view, the respondent (Judge Makgoba) acted in a manner unbecoming of a judge In effect he threatened to use judicial power improperly,” the judgment read.

However, the JCC noted that Judge Makgoba had no record of being found guilty of judicial misconduct prior to this case, and the committee stated that Maluleke spoke to the judge in a manner which may have contributed to the threatening response.

Maluleke’s initial complaint against the judge was set aside, where the subsequent appeal to the JCC ruled that:

Judge Makgoba’s conduct in uttering the statement stemming from the complaint constituted “conduct unbecoming of a judge”.

The judge was to be reprimanded.

And Judge Makgoba “is required within 15 calendar days from the date of receipt of this decision to make arrangements within the Office of the Chief Justice to enable the appeal panel to carry out the reprimand”.

The judge’s defence for making those comments was that he was going to issue a cost order against Maluleke and his clients, an argument which the JCC dismissed.

The Star