August 06, 2012 2:40 PM
MARIGOT--The criminal court in Guadeloupe barred St. Martin attorney Aude Richards on July 31 from practising law for one year after he was convicted of fraud (escroquerie au jugement) in a case related to the St. Martin Tourism Office dating back to 2006.
In 2006, Richards was defending his brother Alex the then-director of the Tourism Office, who was fired for plagiarising a master tourism plan from the department of Nievre in mainland France. Alex Richards gained further notoriety after he was ridiculed by the French media for basing President Alain Richardson's April 1, 2012, inauguration speech on a speech delivered by the President of Burkina Faso.
Aude Richards asked four tourism office administration board members to be witnesses when he planned to file a case in the labour court to contest his brother's dismissal. These were Josianne Artsen-Fleming, Noreen Brooks and Maud Ascent-Gibs, but the fourth witness, Eric Paul, withdrew.
The women initially agreed because at the time they were unhappy with the dismissal. However, unbeknownst to the women who had already submitted statements to Richards, he instead filed a case against the Tourism Office itself.
In a twist of fate, the women subsequently were fined for "procèdure abusive" for taking the Tourism Office to court and making false declarations. They contested the decision, stating that they never had given Richards any authorisation to file a case against the Tourism Office and insisted they had been manipulated unwittingly, resulting in their becoming victims.
They appealed their fines and requested an investigation into Richards' actions. The investigation (mise en examen) was opened by Judge of Instruction Fabien Terrier with the cooperation of the Gendarmerie. When sufficient evidence of fraud was found, Richards was placed trial on April 23, 2012. The court agreed that the three women were victims.
Maud Ascent-Gibs noted that one of the most hurtful aspects of the long ordeal was how Richards had used another lawyer, Jean-Marc Foy, who has since passed away, to front Richards' "wrongdoings." Foy had presented the case against the Tourism Office.
"We knew Foy was innocent," said Gibs. "He never met the three of us. We never had anything against him, because he was used."
Richards was ordered to pay each of the three victims compensation of 2,000 euros for material damages, 5,000 euros for moral damages and 4,500 euros for legal fees under article 471-1 of the criminal code, the Tourism Office 10,000 euros in damages under article 475-1 of the criminal code and a symbolic one euro for moral prejudice.
Richards has filed an appeal against his conviction.
The women expressed profound relief that justice finally had prevailed and that their names now had been cleared. They said their reputations, credibility and moral standing in the community had been tarnished unjustly throughout the six years.
"I feel redeemed," former Municipal Councillor Noreen Brooks told Internet Website SMN-News. "It was never about the money. It was only about him (Richards) admitting what he did and to give us at least an apology. We found out about this case when it was in the newspapers saying we were condemned for something we knew nothing about.
"We visited his office several times to ask how this had happened. If he had only admitted what he did was wrong and taken responsibility, it would never have gone this far. He could have apologised and taken care of the fees that we charged for something we never put into the court system. But today we feel vindicated and truth has prevailed."
Josianne Fleming-Artsen added: "I never doubted winning this case because the truth must always prevail, even if we were going up against a lawyer. From the beginning I was very surprised we were caught in this confusion. I never had any discussions with Aude Richards.
"In the court I could see how he was lying again and again, and when he put an article in the paper accusing us of being liars. We didn't want to take him to court, but he wouldn't stop. Instead of apologising to us this could have been over long ago, but he just kept on lying."
SMN-News also was taken to court for an article it wrote on the case. SMN-News won that case, but Richards' appeal on the ruling comes up on September 18.
(The Daily Herald)
- L’ Office Du Tourisme Asks Correctional Court to Convict Attorney at Law Aude Richards for Fraud