By Court Reporter
Prominent attorney Advocate Tino Chinyoka has accused Harare magistrate Vongai Guwuriro-Muchuchuti of fostering a toxic environment in court due to her alleged biased and negative treatment of property developer George Katsimberis’ legal team.
Chinyoka asserted that Muchuchuti displayed bias in her approach to deputy prosecutor-general Michael Reza’s efforts to proceed with court processes against Katsimberis in the absence of his lawyers, which raised suspicions of possible incentives influencing Reza’s impartiality.
Chinyoka made these allegations in response to Reza’s counterarguments to his application for Muchuchuti to recuse herself from the case, in which Katsimberis faces accusations of fraud from controversial businessman Ken Sharpe’s Pokugara Properties.
The recusal request arose after Muchuchuti was sued by lawyer Millicent Moyo, from Mutumbwa, Mugabe and Partners, for allegedly making false statements during court proceedings.
The legal community unleashed a media campaign branding Chinyoka as a liar after Muchuchuti criticized Moyo, claiming that she lied in court by stating that Chinyoka had traveled to South Africa for medical treatment while seeking a postponement of Katsimberis’ case earlier this year.
However, a transcript of the court proceedings revealed that Moyo never made the statements attributed to her, prompting her to seek damages amounting to US$170,000 from Muchuchuti.
Chinyoka argued that Muchuchuti’s involvement in the lawsuit created a conflict of interest, especially when presiding over a case where Moyo represents someone like Katsimberis.
In response to Chinyoka’s application for Muchuchuti’s recusal, Reza accused the seasoned lawyer and Moyo of fabricating an “artificial crisis” and claimed that Chinyoka misled the court with his application.
Although Reza suggested that the magistrate might have misunderstood Moyo, he downplayed the severity of her actions, stating that they did not warrant recusal.
Chinyoka dismissed Reza’s response as an opinion rather than a legal standpoint and demanded that the deputy prosecutor general testify to explain how he became aware of Muchuchuti’s interpretation of Moyo’s submission, which led to the mischaracterization.
Chinyoka believed that Reza’s vigorous defense of the magistrate in his response confirmed a collaborative effort between the two against his client.
Furthermore, Chinyoka highlighted that Muchuchuti and Reza had attempted multiple times to proceed with court proceedings against Katsimberis in the absence of his lawyers, despite knowing that the lawyers were involved in matters concerning the property developer in higher courts.
“The magistrate has allowed a toxic environment to prevail based on her negative and biased attitude towards the defense,” Chinyoka asserted.
He criticized the state for making demands to proceed without counsel and suggested that Muchuchuti’s alignment with the state allowed them to act with impunity.
Chinyoka concluded that the disregard for Katsimberis’ lawyers demonstrated Reza’s bias and raised the possibility that he and his office had received incentives to assist the complainant in the case.
He found Reza’s claims of an artificial crisis absurd, as they implied knowledge that the magistrate would lie.
Chinyoka also questioned why Reza filed a response on behalf of Muchuchuti, who is a judicial officer, and raised concerns about the impropriety of the entire state reply.
He demanded clarification on whether the state was representing the magistrate and whether the state received instructions from her.
Chinyoka insisted that if the answers to these questions were negative, the state had placed the magistrate in an unenviable position, where she appeared to be rewarding the state for unsolicited representation of her position.