Cel*Star dispute
Florida court rules for Kirton -says case should be heard in Guyana
Stabroek News
February 24, 2004

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A Florida court has dismissed legal action taken by Cel Star Caribbean Inc. (CSC) and Cel Star Guyana Inc. (CSG) against one of its shareholders, Wesley Kirton, saying the courts in Guyana are the appropriate forum to decide on the alleged misappropriation by Kirton of the company's stocks and assets.

The Florida ruling on February 20 could accelerate the hearing of the matter here and this could in turn pave the way for the implementation of the delayed interconnection agreement between Cel*Star and the Guyana Telephone and Telegraph.

A copy of the ruling by Justice James E.C. Perry in the circuit court of the 18th judicial circuit noted that the case had its genesis in Kirton's motion to dismiss the plaintiffs' case on the grounds of Forum Non Conveniens.

It was noted by the Florida court that Kirton had since caused CSG to seek a declaratory decree in Guyana to determine whether the stock in CSG was legally issued to CSC, or to him.

The judge said that although the plaintiffs in the Florida case are only seeking relief against Kirton, all reliefs they seek turn on the issue of whether CSC or Kirton was validly issued the stock of CSG. Furthermore, the court said that CSC's standing to file suit on behalf of CSG hinges on the same question.

Additionally, it said that CSG is incorporated under the laws of Guyana where it conducts business and has never done or maintained business in Florida, "notwithstanding the plaintiffs' allegations."

It was also pointed out that the dispute is centred on who validly holds or held the CSC stock and since the evidence regarding the dispute was in Guyana then it is best resolved here.

The Guyanese Attorney General and Prime Minister as well as numerous other local public officials would be required to testify in the court hearing for this dispute thus it was more convenient for it to be done here, the Florida ruling stated.

The plaintiffs had contended that their reason for taking the action before a Florida court was due in part to the fact that the pace of judicial procedure[s] in Guyana is extremely slow and there is almost no likelihood of impartiality.

However, the ruling by the Florida court, argues that the subject of the case is of crucial interest to the government and people of Guyana, and that the High Court in Guyana has undertaken to ensure the dispute is resolved expeditiously.

It said that while certain cases indeed take five or six years to be settled, others are determined more quickly, adding that these circumstances sometimes hold true for cases in Florida.

Another argument offered on the plaintiffs' behalf expressed concerns about Kirton's political influence in Guyana. But the Florida ruling said the onus is on the courts in Guyana to refrain from abdicating its duty to adjudicate impartially. Another argument by the plaintiffs was that the former counsel for CSC had filed the Guyanese suit for CSG against CSC creating a conflict of interest and potential disclosure of attorney/client confidences. In response, the Florida court said the responsibility lies with the Guyana Bar and the court to address any incidence of breach of conduct by any of its counsel. "One remedy available to the Guyanese court if there is, in fact, a conflict of interest, is disqualification of the offending law firm from further participation in the case", the order said.

The Florida court did not find arguments for attendance costs of the plaintiffs' witnesses who reside in the United States and Germany, compelling being excessively higher for Florida than Guyana.

It was also not swayed by submissions on the plaintiffs' behalf which suggested that the defendant's assets are outside of Guyana which would make it difficult for them to access any reliefs won by them in the action. The court noted that any such judgement can be registered and enforced in Florida. "The process is not difficult", the order said.

It added "the court has found that (the) defendant's private interests in having this dispute resolved in Guyana outweigh plaintiffs' private interests in having it resolved in Florida". Even assuming that the parties' private interests are at equipoise, "the overwhelming interests of the people and government of Guyana in the subject matter of this dispute mandate that the dispute be resolved in Guyana", the order said.