Previously on AS THE COURT PLEASES...
When Ihechi got back from CAC, the Head of Chamber had left the office. Kingsley too. Susan was still around though, and of course, Comfort. She went straight to her office to find that the file of the process that she’d gone to file with Kingsley was right there on her table. She didn’t know if that meant that she was going to court for it. She didn’t want to go to Susan to verify, so, she went to Comfort.
“Who is handling this case?” she said, dropping the file before her.
“Kingsley nau!” the receptionist answered.
“But it was dropped on my table.”
“That is how he does oh! Drop it back on his table jaré! If he likes, let him miss court. Baba will have his head for lunch.” Comfort was obviously annoyed by Kingsley’s attitude.
Ihechi picked up the file, returned to her office and proceeded to read up on it, just in case she was required to go to court, considering that she was sent with Kingsley to file the process.
Comfort was already seated when Ihechi walked into the office the next day.
“Has Kingsley come in?” she asked after she’d stopped at the receptionist’s desk for the exchange of some pleasantries.
“No.” Comfort snapped shut the small vanity case whose mirror she’d been peering into.
The woman was quite vain, Ihechi had noticed. And the result of that narcissism was how immaculate she managed to look from the start of the day to the closing of work.
“Ok. Hope he comes in fast enough to meet up with court,” Ihechi said, before proceeding to her office.
She’d decided to review the rest of the files handed over to her, and right after settling down, she was buried in work. She realized that most of the cases were pro-bono criminal cases, and she’d have to take a trip to Kuje and Suleja Prisons to interview the clients.
She was reviewing the first file, COP Vs. Obinna Obi and Nnanna Ebenezer. The only document in the file was the charge sheet. Both men were charged for theft. There was nothing about the status of the case, but going by the endorsement at the back of the file, the matter had been adjourned under Kingsley’s request, and no reason was indicated.
Ihechi found this bewildering, and made a mental note to ask Kingsley when he showed up.
The second file was COP Vs. Osaremien. He was charged with Robbery and Illegal Possession of Firearms. Thankfully, there was more than the charge sheet in the file.
She was about to start going through it when her phone rang. Kingsley was calling.
“Hello?” she said.
“Ihee, keekwanu?” came Kingsley’s very nice response.
Ihee? Ihechi thought, quirking an eyebrow. When had they gotten that familiar?
“What is it?” she said in clipped English, refusing to encourage his informality by responding in Igbo.
There was a pause, as though he was letting the tone of her response sink in. His voice was however still oily with attempted charm when he said, “I need you to help me handle that case we filed yesterday in court, inugo? I am running late.”
“And you’re calling me just now to tell me that?”
“I know how it looks. Just start going now, you will meet up.”
“And if I say No?”
“Well, I will have to report you to Baba that you used office hours to do your private work at CAC.”
Ihechi’s face tightened at the threat.
Then he chuckled and said, “But look, I wouldn’t do that to you.” He paused before adding, “You know you’re my personal person. Just take the file and start going to court now. It’s on your table.” And then he ended the call.
Ihechi permitted herself a moment to swear furiously under her breath at the man, before glancing at her wristwatch. She had barely seven minutes to be seated in court.
Thankfully, the court was running late. So, Ihechi settled down at the bar and tried to rehearse her argument, amidst other bar members who were engaged in their own waiting-for-the-court past time. There was a buzz of conversations around her as some of the people in the room discussed politics, football and the weather, while some others stayed occupied with their phones.
“Excuse me?” The lawyer beside Ihechi tapped her lightly on the arm.
“Yes?” She turned, irritated by the intrusion.
“What party are you representing?” The man was pointing at her file. “I couldn’t help but notice you were going through the AFCON Homes and Mortgages file.”
Oh you couldn’t, could you? Ihechi thought irritably as she swept a quick glance over him, taking note of his gimlet eyes, aggressive chin and paunchy body. “What’s it to you?”
“I’m a part of the case,” he said, his face hardening as he picked up on her contrariety.
“Oh. Well, I’m representing the defendants. Is there a problem?”
“Yes! There is a problem.” The man’s demeanour had become combative. “This matter has dragged on for a very long time, and you guys haven’t been attending court. Our motion to dismiss is already in the court file and we are –”
“Well, I’m here, aren’t I? That your motion will have to wait,” Ihechi cut him off.
“Really?” The lawyer’s florid complexion reddened with affront. “Just so you know, we are not going to accept any further adjournments! I hope your witnesses are ready for examinations-in-chief?”
Ihechi ignored him, mainly because she knew that she wasn’t really ready to go beyond the motion which she filed yesterday. She didn’t even know anything about the defendants. She wouldn’t be able to pick them out in a room if they showed up in court today. And she hadn’t prepped them for examination.
“Did you hear me?” the lawyer snapped with the impatience of one who was repeating something she hadn’t heard him say the first time. He tapped Ihechi’s arm again, this time not so lightly.
“Bia, nwokem, I’m respecting your age oh! Don’t hit me again, or I’ll sue you for assault and battery!” Ihechi burst out in fountaining anger.
“Shut up there, you this small geh! I have your type at home! My last born is your age mate, so, shut up that ya dirty mouth!” the man, obviously incensed, bellowed, drawing the attention of the other members of the bar.
“Leekwagi!” Ihechi retorted with a sneer. “Your last born is my age mate, and you’re joining issues with me? You should be thoroughly ashamed of yourself!”
The rejoinder drew hoots and guffaws from the other lawyers and litigants surrounding the spectacle.
“Is it me that you are talking to like that?” With this, the man rose to his feet, the motion causing Ihechi to crane her neck upward to still get a good look at his anger-flushed face.
“My friend, respect yourself there!” someone barked from behind, another male lawyer coming to Ihechi’s rescue.
“What do you mean? Didn’t you hear her insulting me?” her opponent raged at him.
“So, if they let you, you’ll beat her, abi? Say one more word to her and you’ll face me!”
Ihechi turned to get a glimpse of a younger man, about her age, dark-skinned and built quite huskily.
Just then, the door to the judge’s chamber was jerked open.
The court clerk, who looked like he was unhappy to have this drama cut short, stood up and yelled, “COURT!”
Everyone quieted down immediately and shuffled to their feet as the judge walked in with the orderly in tow.
“Contemptexfacie curiae,” someone mumbled, followed by a smattering of laughter.
“Good morning everyone,” the judge, an imperially-thin man with graying hair and a sharp, bespectacled gaze, called out.
The lawyers replied with a chorus of “Good morning, sir” and “Good morning, my lord.”
“Please be seated,” the judge said. “I apologise for running late, and I apologise upfront, I will have a thirty-minute recess at 11:30 and resume at 12 noon.”
“As the court pleases,” the lawyers said in unison.
“Call the first case,” the judge said.
“Ihedigbo Properties Limited vs. Assemblies of God, Nigeria,” the court clerk called out, as he rose to hand the file over to the judge.
“Where is my copy of the cause list?” the judge asked.
“Here!” a lawyer behind Ihechi volunteered, waving the piece of paper.
Ihechi turned to collect it from him, realizing then that it is the same lawyer who’d defended her. He smiled at her when he noticed his gaze linger on his face. She smiled back, and then took the sheet from him.
A quick glance over it made her realize that she was supposed to enter her appearance on the list. She raised her index finger in a plea for his forbearance at the clerk, who was waiting with an outstretched palm to collect the sheet from her. She scribbled her name and year of call against the defendants’ column, and glancing at the appearance for the plaintiff, she realized that she was two full years older at the bar than Barrister Troublemaker. Snickering to herself, she handed the paper over to the court clerk, who in turn handed it to the judge.
“Appearances?” the judge enquired, looking up from the file which he had been studying while waiting for the list.
Ihechi hoped that her case would fall into the ones that would come after the recess, a stretch of time that would enable her figure out who her clients were, and perhaps carry out a quick prep for them before the court came back into session. She just knew she couldn’t botch this case up, or her job would be on the line.
She prayed. She made promises. She cursed Kingsley.
“AFCON Homes and Mortgages vs. Catherine Efe and one other!” the court clerk called out, pulling Ihechi out of her preoccupation with a gasp.
“My God!” Ihechi muttered as her heart stopped momentarily before picking up at a breakneck speed.
“What – are you not ready?” Barrister Troublemaker sneered from beside her, before swaggering to his feet. Adjusting his robe, he began addressing the judge, “With profound humility, my Lord, I am David Ebolulum. Ebolulum is spelled E-B–”
“I can see the spelling from the cause list, thank you very much!” the judge snapped. “Go on!”
“As the court pleases,” the barrister said with the adroitness of a seasoned lawyer. “I’m here for the plaintiff, my Lord.”
As he sat back down, Ihechi got to her feet. Her insides were quaking, but she strove not to let her consternation show as she said, “With humility, my Lord, I am Ihechiluru Chibiko for the defendants.”
“Chibiko – Miss or Missis?” the judge asked.
“Miss, my Lord.”
“That’s alright. All the unmarried lawyers here, kindly take note,” the judge said, turning an edifying look to the room.
“As the court pleases,” the members of the bar said with a smattering of laughter.
Barrister David got back to his feet, brisk and ready for business, “My Lord, this case has been scheduled today for the moving of the motion to dismiss, and to enter a default judgement. And with your kind permission, I would like to proceed.”
“There is another motion for extension of time to file a defence, by the defendant,” the judge demurred. “Was it not served on you, Mr. Ebolulum?”
“It was served, my Lord, but only yesterday evening. We haven’t had time to review it–”
“Then, maybe, let us hear from the lawyer to the defendants first before we proceed?” the judge suggested with a lift of his grey brows that implied he wasn’t really suggesting.
But David wasn’t having it. “My Lord, the counsel to the defendant has been very lackadaisical with this case. If you would recall, my Lord, they appeared last on this case more than a year ago, and since then, it has been either a letter asking for adjournment or adjournment off-record. My Lord, the plaintiffs cannot go on like this. How are we sure that this motion that they have filed is not a ploy to further waste the time of this honourable court?”
Ihechi felt her breakfast congeal inside her when the judge turned a slight frown to her. “Miss Chibiko, what do you have to say about this?”
“My Lord, I just joined the chamber of the defence counsel less than a month ago, and I honestly do not know what their excuses are. This file was handed over to me two days ago, and I am very ready to go on with the case today. If it pleases the court, I would like to refer to the decision of the Supreme Court in the case of Abiegbe vs. Ugbodume, which laid down the general principle that in a situation where there are two conflicting motions before the courts, one to terminate the suit, and the other to save it, that the motion to save the suit be considered first by the court, not minding which motion was the first in time.” She took a quick, deep steadying breath before adding, “I crave your discretion and ask, my Lord, that you give us a chance to move this motion, and another chance to take this case seriously.”
There was a long pause as the court put into record the arguments of both counsel, after which the judge read his decision and his order.
“Having heard the arguments of both counsels, with the counsel for the plaintiff seeking to dismiss the case on the basis of the defendant’s tardiness in handling the suit, and the counsel for the defendant seeking a motion to delay the proceedings so they might be better prepared to tackle the case, I hereby rule in favour of the counsel to the defendant. The plaintiff’s motion to dismiss is denied. The defendant counsel may move her motion.”
At the bang of his gavel, Ihechi rose from her seat with a smile.
Written by The Counsel