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Magistrates in hot water over court room smart phones

Publish date: 06 February 2019
Issue Number: 1767
Diary: Legalbrief eLaw
Category: General

A Cape Town magistrate is in trouble for allegedly texting during a court hearing. A TimesLIVE report notes that the Magistrates' Commission yesterday confirmed that it has launched a probe into Goodwood Magistrate Sean Lea after he was filmed glued to his cellphone while on the Bench last week. An appalled Fazloen Hoffman posted pictures and videos of Lea, seemly disengaged from the proceedings, on Facebook and YouTube. According to Hoffman, the incident happened on Friday. She described Lea and staff at the court as ‘unprofessional, disrespectful and blatantly abusing taxpayers’ money and the privilege of being employed’. Hoffman said she confronted the prosecutor after the court proceedings for ‘benefiting from a distracted magistrate whose lack of apparent interest leaves wide-ranging opportunities for success’. Hoffman said Lea told her he was texting his boss, a Mr De Beer, and even briefly showed her a WhatsApp chat. She said Lea tried to shove his phone in her face in front of people and she ‘told him to back off from me as his aggressiveness was threatening’. Hoffman said she had lodged formal complaints with the Office of the Public Protector, the provincial Head of Justice, the Magistrates' Commission and Justice Minister Michael Masutha. Advocate Hishaam Mohamed, head of Justice Department in the Western Cape, confirmed that he had received the complaint. He said an investigation into the magistrate’s alleged misconduct is the job of the Magistrates Commission, but said he had launched an investigation into the court staffer, a stenographer, who is seen dozing in the videos. ‘We know that Hoffman's son was sentenced to two years' imprisonment and she is very angry. Or it could be that the magistrate is out of order,’ said Mohamed.

Full TimesLIVE report

And Bloemfontein Regional Court Magistrate Leavit Mkansi has recused himself from the trial of alleged hitman Stanley Bakili (37) after it emerged a call was allegedly made to Bakili from one of the magistrate’s cell phones. A Volksblad report notes that Bakili is alleged to be the mastermind behind the hit on businessman Louis Siemens on 10 May last year. During the investigation into calls received by and made to Bakili, police found a call in the same month as the murder from a number registered to Mkansi. Mkansi vehemently denied in court that he ever phoned Bakili. He said the cell phone number in question hasn’t been used for a long time and all his cell phones are used by the entire family. It could have been that one of his family members replied to a ‘please call me’, but that is pure speculation, Mkansi said. In the interest of justice, he recused himself.

Full Netwerk24 report