Pretoria - Advocate Malesela Teffo, the lawyer dramatically arrested in court while representing four of the five men accused of the murder of Senzo Meyiwa, is no stranger to courtroom drama.
Teffo has endured the wrath of at least two judges over his conduct in court.
In March, Judge Winston Msimeki removed Teffo as the defence advocate for two co-accused of Radovan Krejcir in their ongoing criminal trial.
Judge Msimeki said Teffo was so highly disruptive in court that it became clear that there could be no progress in the criminal trial while he was one of the court officials.
The judge said in his judgment that he had never, during his decades of being a lawyer and later a judge, seen anyone behave in such manner.
But, the judge said, while Teffo clearly disrespected the court and was contemptuous, it would only further delay the criminal trial if he sanctioned him for being in contempt of court.
Instead, he said, for the sake of progress, the court decided not to pursue contempt of court, because there were enough grounds to exclude Teffo from the case, and the trial needed to proceed.
The judge gave various examples of Teffo’s behaviour inside the courtroom, as well as in his chambers. Teffo, among others, told the judge that he was 73 years old and ought to have retired at 70 instead of “remaining in court carrying a political mandate”.
Teffo became involved in that trial – now in its sixth year – before the Johannesburg High Court, in November last year. The judge remarked that in his judgement the problems started the day Teffo came aboard.
He said Teffo was disrespectful towards him during their first meeting in chambers, and the prosecutor had to reprimand him, to which Teffo did not take kindly.
The problems escalated in court with numerous verbal altercations and times when Teffo simply did not pitch up.
Explaining why he did not attend court on November 18 last year, Teffo told the judge that he was arrested during that time and held at Sun City prison in Joburg, but that he was later released on R500 bail.
Judge Msimeki said Teffo’s disruptive behaviour in court meanwhile continued, up to the point that he ordered him to give reasons as to why he should not be held in contempt, or be excluded from the case.
Teffo, meanwhile, replied that he had always behaved impeccably and said he was “being bullied” by the court.
In deciding to axe him from the trial, Judge Msimeki said the court was patient enough with him. The judge said the court record showed how disruptive he was. “I, in my entire career as a judge or an attorney, never experienced or saw what Mr Teffo was doing in court,” the judge said.
Meanwhile, the Johannesburg Labour Court in October last year found Teffo and one of his clients, former police officer Christian Dube, guilty of contempt of court in an unrelated matter.
Teffo was at the time representing Dube in a case against the police following his dismissal, which resulted in a plethora of applications by Teffo and the SAPS.
Judge Edwin Tlhotlhalemaje had strong words for Teffo and Dube’s conduct during these proceedings. He remarked that they had “not only shown utter contempt for this court and its orders, but have also done so in the most brazen manner, which was unprecedented in this court.”
In this case Teffo on occasion also did not arrive for court. One of the lawyers involved phoned him on the eve of another court date, to remind him that he had to attend court.
“He was instead shockingly crude and dehumanising, even by his lowest standards, as he referred to her as a ‘[email protected]#* b*#@’. From this response, it is apparent that ethical and professional conduct, expected of officers of a court, and which further calls for integrity, fairness and respect … clearly escaped Teffo, or at worst he is not, as a practitioner, aware of these basics,” the judge said.
Finding Teffo and Dube guilty of contempt, Judge Tlhotlhalemaje imposed a R50 000 fine on each, payable by October 22 last year. He said if they did not pay the fine, they would face a three-month jail sentence.