Harare Magistrate Vongai Muchuchuti, Prosecutor Michael Reza Accused Of Alleged Bias Against Katsimberis Lawyers
7 June 2023
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Top lawyer Advocate Tino Chinyoka has accused Harare magistrate Vongai Guwuriro-Muchuchuti of allowing a toxic environment to prevail in court due to her alleged negative and biased attitude towards property developer George Katsimberis’ legal representatives.

Chinyoka said Muchuchuti has been showing bias in her attitude towards deputy prosecutor-general Michael Reza’s determination to have court processes proceed against Katsimberis in the absence of his lawyers.

He said Reza’s impartiality in the case raised suspicion that he might have been incentivised.

Chinyoka made the accusations on Monday while responding to Reza’s response to his application for Muchuchuti to recuse herself from the case where Katsimberis is being accused by controversial businessman Ken Sharpe’s Pokugara Properties of fraud.

The application for recusal came after Muchuchuti was sued by lawyer Millicent Moyo, of Mutumbwa, Mugabe and Partners for allegedly making false statements in court.

Muchuchuti berated Moyo claiming the lawyer lied in court that Chinyoka had travelled to South Africa for medical treatment while applying for postponement of Katsimberis’ case earlier this year.

The magistrate’s claims were followed by a media onslaught branding the lawyer as a liar and that saw her being summoned by the Zimbabwe Law Society.

A transcript of the court proceedings showed that Moyo never uttered the statements that were attributed to her and she is now claiming US$170 000 from Muchuchuti for damages.

Chinyoka said as a result of the lawsuit, Muchuchuti was now conflicted to hear a case involving someone represented by Moyo like Katsimberis.

Reza responded to Chinyoka’s application for the magistrate’s recusal by accusing the veteran lawyer and Moyo of creating an “artificial crisis.”

He claimed Chinyoka misled the court in his application.

However, Reza said the magistrate could have misunderstood Moyo but downplayed the gravity of her actions saying that cannot warrant a recusal.

But Chinyoka described Reza’s response as a testimony or opinion rather than a legal opinion.

He demanded that the deputy prosecutor general should be called to the stand to testify how he came to know about Muchuchuti’s interpretation of Moyo’s submission that led to the mischaracterisation.

He said Reza’s spirited defence of the magistrate in his response confirmed that the two were working in cohorts against his client.

Chinyoka said previously Muchuchuti and Reza had tried four times to have court proceedings against Katsimberis proceed in the absence of his lawyers even when they knew that the lawyers were engaged in matters involving the property developer in superior courts.

“The magistrate has allowed a toxic environment to prevail based on her negative and biased attitude towards the defence,” Chinyoka said.

“The magistrate, egged on by the State, has created such a toxic atmosphere that even observers’ attempts to diffuse the situation will not help.

“The State gets away with making these demands for the trial to proceed without counsel because the magistrate has created an impression that she is on their side.

“The submissions filed on her behalf by the State, complete with an explanation for her false statements, seem an appropriate quid pro quo when viewed in this context.”

Chinyoka said the lack of respect for Katsimberis’ lawyers proved that Reza was biased.

“And there is a real possibility that he and his office have been incentivised to do all they can to assist the complainant in this case,” he said.

He said Reza’s claims that the lawyers were making an artificial crisis were absurd because they implied that “we were aware that the magistrate would lie.”

Chinyoka said Reza also gave an impression that he was aware that the magistrate was confused, and as required of his duty, was supposed to clarify the situation, but failed because he was happy since he wanted the court to proceed without the defence counsel.

He said to achieve an artificial crisis, he was supposed to know that the magistrate will lie in court and make defamatory statements against Moyo, which would be widely covered by the media and that the LSZ would sanction the lawyer for misconduct.

Chinyoka also queried why Reza filed a response on behalf of Muchuchuti, who is a judicial officer.

“The second challenge is that the entire reply by the State is highly irregular and improper,” he added.

“An application for the recusal of the judge or magistrate is one between the party making it and the judicial officer.”

Chinyoka demanded to know whether the State was representing the magistrate in the matter and whether the State took instructions from the magistrate.

He also wanted to know whether the State had the magistrate’s instructions that there was an error of comprehension and if so, how the State knew that the magistrate erred in understanding.

He asked whether the magistrate saw Reza’s responses before they were filed.

“If the answers to these questions are in the negative, then the State has put the magistrate in an invidious position where she cannot be seen to be rewarding the State for its unsolicited representation of her position,” Chinyoka concluded.