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By Cornelia Le Roux

Digital Deputy News Editor

Sobering verdict: SCA ruling paves way for retired judge Motata to be impeached

The Supreme Court of Appeal has directed the JSC to impeach Judge Motata for his 2007 drunk driving incident and racist tirade.

The Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) ruled on Thursday 22 June that the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) was wrong when it found that retired judge  Nkola Motata was only guilty of “misconduct” and not “gross misconduct” after he drove into a wall in an intoxicated state 15 years ago.

The court said in its ruling that for as long as Motata, who has since retired on full benefits, is entitled to be called “Judge Motata”, the judiciary “continues to be stained in the eyes of the public”.

Sober as a judge? Not Motata…

After a gruelling two-year-long trial, the judge was found guilty in 2009 by the Gauteng High Court, in Johannesburg, of driving under the influence of alcohol on the night of 6 January 2007 when he crashed his gold Jaguar into a garden wall.

His racist tirade against Hurlingham home owner Richard Baird and the Metro officials who arrested him, were recorded, and the evidence was accepted in court.

The high court sentenced him to a fine of R20 000 or 12 months’ imprisonment.

ALSO READ: I was sober as a judge – Motata

JSC rejects tribunal’s impeachment recommendation

The case was referred to the Judicial Conduct Tribunal, which in April 2018 found that Motata’s “racist conduct [at the crash scene]…constitutes gross misconduct”.

While Motata was convicted criminally of the offence, the JSC rejected the tribunal’s recommendation that he be impeached.

In October 2019, according to the Mail & Guardian, Advocate Dali Mpofu SC said the majority of the JSC ruled that, although Motata had committed misconduct, it was not gross misconduct, warranting impeachment.

Motata was ordered to pay a fine of R1.5 million — one year’s salary — to the South African Judicial Education Institute.

ALSO READ: Impeach Judge Motata for racial remarks – tribunal

SCA instructs JSC to impeach Motata

In this file photo, retired judge Nkola Motata is seen at the Johannesburg High Court on 29 November 2010 where he was denied leave to appeal against his conviction for drunken driving. Photo: Gallo Images/ Sowetan/ Veli Nhlapo

The SCA, by majority, has now directed the JSC to initiate impeachment proceedings against Motata.

The application for his impeachment was launched by Freedom Under Law (FUL).

On Thursday, Judge Visvanthan Ponnan, writing for the majority in the SCA, said:

“Both [the JSC and the High Court] had failed to consider the impact on the public of him remaining ‘Judge Motata’ and continuing to receive the benefits of his pension as a judge after he was found to have made racist statements and thereafter conducted a dishonest defence in his criminal trial and before the Tribunal.

“It was of course open to Judge Motata to offer, at any time, an apology for his conduct. But, he did not.

ALSO READ: You’re still paying for ‘drunken Judge’ Motata’s gravy train

‘Judge Motata’ stains judiciary in eyes of public

“They [the [public] watched him lie under oath to the Tribunal about his level of intoxication, as the video of him slurring his words and stumbling went viral. His conduct is inimical to his office. For as long as he is entitled to be called Judge Motata, the judiciary continues to be stained in the eyes of the public,” Judge Ponnan said.

Read the full judgment here.

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