A senior government lawyer’s demeanor and honesty came under the spotlight when a Francistown High Court judge awarded P50 000 damages to a private attorney in a defamation suit.
The judgment, pronounced by Justice Moses Chinhengo last week, was a sequel to a defamation suit instituted by Tshekiso Tshekiso, a Francistown private attorney, against Mpho Letsoalo of the Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP) for insulting words uttered by the defendant against the applicant during a trial before then Francistown Chief Magistrate Lorraine Makati-Lesang in December 2007.
Justice Chinhengo said the injury to Tshekiso was aggravated by the fact that the insult was uttered in open court.
“The character of the insulting words, as I have said, goes beyond robust language or rough criticism. Letsoalo was a very senior attorney and had the duty to set a good example for Tshekiso who was then a young and aspiring attorney. Letsoalo’s demeanor and honesty left a lot to be desired. These are proper factors to be considered in an assessment of damages,” said Chinhengo before giving the award.
The judge observed that Tshekiso went for the stars in his claim against the state attorney.
“Tshekiso claimed P350 000. This, by any standard, is a very high claim even for a serious defamation. Although an award for damages for an insult has a punitive element to it, the principal reason for the award is to assuage the wounded feelings of the plaintiff. The award must not be meaningless and it must not equally be excessive,” said Justice Chinhengo.
According to the plaintiff’s summons, on the 14th of December 2007 while the two were conducting a case at the Francistown Magistrate Court, the Chief State Counsel, Letsoalo, who was then based at the DPP in Francistown uttered words in court which Tshekiso felt they wrongfully demeaned his image, harmed his dignity and reputation.
Tshekiso claims that the defendant uttered the words: “You suffer from verbal dirrhoaea and you are myopic.”
Letsoalo was represented by David Moloise from the Attorney General Chambers while Tshekiso was represented by Kagiso Jani of Tshekiso, Ditiro and Jani Legal Practice.