Civil rules of the court dictate that when you file a statement of defence, there should be “brevity, materiality and necessity.” Just stick to the facts, the rules require. Later, during the trial, counsel is allowed to provide evidence.
But when Lighthouse Chapel International was filing its defence statements, it included a lot of information that offends the rules. There is even a part of the defence about how Covid-19 affected a Lighthouse school.
It is for this reason, that out of a total of 172 pages in the three defences examined on Day Four of the hearing, the court struck out some 129 pages, leaving the church to work with 43 pages.
This slashing relates to the church’s defence filed in response to the claims of abuse and exploitation made by three other former ministers: Bishop Oko Mensah, Rev. Edem Kofi Amankwah and Rev. Seth Duncan.
The court began Day Four of its hearing with the impact of Day Three hovering over the case. On Day Three, the court ordered that a chunk of the church’s defence statement against Larry Odonkor’s claims be struck out of the record.
It ended up reducing the Lighthouse’s defence against Bishop Larry from 64 pages to 25 pages.
It was found to have too many unnecessary statements. And in answer to the prayer by Kofi Bentil, who is counsel for the Larry Odonkor, judge Frank Aboadwe Rockson, a Fordham University graduate, ruled that the offending portions be struck out on Day Three.
The church had filed similar bulky defence statements against the five other former ministers. If the court found problems with one, chances were that it would find problems with all the remaining five.
And so, Kofi Bentil, who is also counsel for the other five, went to court with a scalpel, a knife and a rake, asking the court to do unto the other statements what it did to the first–cut off the fat, and leave the facts.
Justice Frank Rockson would warn that it is not automatic that one ruling would apply to the others, opening the window for the legal possibility that the three other defence statements being heard would not go under the knife.
They all did.
The three defence statements combined had 172 pages. The court cut out 129 pages. LCI now had 43 pages of defence.
The court found substantial non-substance in three more LCI defence statements, leaving defence counsel Rodney Heward-Mills in some frantic salvaging of a very gutted defence, much like shop owners’ desperate efforts to save something from the ashes of the Makola market fire.
But Kofi Bentil would want more than scrapping off a chunk of the defence statement. He wanted the entire three other statements thrown out so that Rodney Heward-Mills would file them all again.
He argued that separating the non-essentials from the essentials was tedious and obfuscating, much like trying to extract cassava from plantain during fufu pounding.
Rodney Heward-Mills saw it differently. He felt Mr. Bentil was asking the court to throw away the baby with the bathwater.
He said the church had sued Larry Odonkor and five others for defamation. And to argue a case of defamation, one would need to state at least the title of the defamation.
“The headings alone are glaringly defamatory. With respect, My Lord, striking out portions cannot include the headings. That must be considered proper particulars. We need an anchor for our defamation,” he said.
From his point of view, the challenge was not about removing cassava from plantain. It really was just a simple matter of removing lumps from the fufu, something that is easily done in many kitchens.
“Do I hear you say you agree that portions should be struck out”, the judge appeared to spot some middle ground and moved there.
Rodney Heward-Mills surrendered himself to the decision of the judge and, at that, the court ordered that the offending portions be struck out of the record.
Kofi Bentil would not get his request for refiling and Rodney Heward-Mills would not get his position that his defence statements were fine enough.
And so, the judge axed several parts, ruling that they offended civil procedure, which requires that a defence statement only stick to facts and shouldn’t be more than three pages.
“I have given my ruling. It is up to them to do whatever they want,” the judge declined to order a refiling. Rodney chalked a small victory against the throwing out of his entire defence statements.
Before the court would end the sitting in the Lighthouse case, Kofi Bentil would find that his copy of a defence statement in respect of Oko Mensah was different from the copy of the defence counsel.
“This is a serious matter,” he expressed shock, noting that if he was to respond to a statement that was different from what the court had, it would be injurious to his client.
“Misfiling!” Bentil screamed and said in an I-told-you-so way, that this was why he had hoped the court would order a refiling of the defence.
The court noted Bentil’s shock and directed defence counsel to give him a true copy of the defence statement.
It was now the turn of Bentil to engage in a gratifying part of every proceeding–asking for cost.
“We want a significant cost,” he said, buoyed by his discovery of a “serious case of misfiling”. Bentil asked for GH₵ 10,000.
“Ooohhh, Ooohhhh”, Rodney let out a reflex exasperation at Bentil’s penchant for milking his errors in this Lighthouse case.
The judge would set GH₵2,000 as cost. Out of the three suits heard, he awarded costs for two at GH₵2,000 each and another at GH₵2,500. The hearing ended with LCI owing GH₵4,500 more.
After four hearings in the Lighthouse case, the church has racked up GH₵13,000 in cost to Bentil, an average of GH₵3,250 per sitting.
You can reach the writer of this story, Edwin Appiah, via email at [email protected]. You can follow him on @edwinologyLB
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