NASSAU, BAHAMAS — A top lawyer was reduced to tears after Chief Magistrate Joyann Ferguson-Pratt allegedly berated her in court with “personal attacks” that included demeaning references to obeah and her gravely ill mother.
The details of the interaction between the chief magistrate and Christina Galanos are contained in court documents and have not been publicly reported until now.
It comes after the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions filed an application to have Ferguson-Pratt recuse herself from the Michelle Reckley fraud case, arguing that detention records show she visited Reckley in a cell at the Magistrate’s Court complex.
According to documents, Chief Justice Sir Brian Moree, QC, was forced to intervene and broker a truce between the chief magistrate and Galanos after the latter alleged in a complaint to him that Ferguson-Pratt’s comments about her mother caused “immense and excruciating pain” and that the encounter left her stunned and humiliated.
The documents allege that Ferguson-Pratt subsequently agreed to transfer all of Galanos’ cases to other magistrates, and had been compliant for a period.
However, the chief magistrate allegedly reneged on the deal when she decided to hear the case of Cary Chappell, an American who was arrested in Bimini on alleged possession of firearms in March 2022.
Chappell subsequently asked the Supreme Court to transfer his case to another judge. The Supreme Court agreed and also acted on his request to vary the chief magistrate’s bail conditions.
Galanos declined to comment on the matters when contacted yesterday.
Galanos wrote the chief justice about her “upsetting” interaction with Ferguson Pratt on March 8, 2021.
“It is with a heavy heart that I am constrained to write to you in reference to my cruel and inhumane experience,” she said in the letter, which was submitted as part of Chappel’s effort to get a different judge.
Galanos wrote that on March 4, 2021, she found out that a case of hers would be heard in court 9, the chief magistrate’s court.
“Notorious for its frequent late starts,” Galanos’ letter read, “I contacted Ms Samantha Miah, the prosecutor for court no. 9 to try to ascertain what time court was likely to start (as she usually tends to know). She stated that the chief magistrate was ‘doing a walkabout with the newly-appointed officer in charge, which shouldn’t take too long’ and so she predicted that ‘we should get started by about 10.30am’. That sounded quite reasonable so I decided to wait.”
Galanos said by 12pm court proceedings had not started and the magistrate had not sent a note or apology.
“By this time, I became extremely frustrated having to yet again endure a terribly late start in court no. 9, which all criminal practitioners know has been a chronic problem for many years now,” the letter read.
Galanos said she complained to a court worker about the issue and told the woman she would leave and return when the court was ready to begin.
She said she was advised about 20 minutes later that the chief magistrate’s court was about to start.
Galanos’s letter continued: “Attorney Ian Cargill was on his seat leading with several matters. Approximately ten minutes later, the chief magistrate said, ‘next matter’ at which time I rose and said, ‘good afternoon your worship, Christina Galanos here for Mr Henry Wallace. It is a first plea.’ The chief magistrate then said to me, ‘Ms Galanos, I will not deal with your matter now. I have to meet with you in chambers first before I get to you.’ I said, ‘no problem your worship’ and I took my seat.
“Approximately 10 minutes later, the chief magistrate said, ‘Ms Galanos, these other matters that I am about to deal with are going to take a while. Perhaps you should go and come back at 2.30pm or 3pm, since your time is so precious.
“I was stunned by what I thought was a highly inconsiderate statement to which I replied, ‘no problem your worship, I will come back at 3pm.’ As I sat and was about to gather my belongings to leave, the chief magistrate suddenly said, ‘Ms Galanos, you will not leave my courtroom. You will sit there and wait on me to call your matter up.’ I then said, ‘no problem your worship’ and I again took my seat.”
Galanos said Ferguson Pratt dealt with other matters but soon indicated that she would address her “in front of counsel,” not in chambers.
She said the chief magistrate cleared the courtroom. Only she, the judge, Cargill, and the prosecutor remained.
“What unfolded next was nothing that my wildest imagination could have come up with,” Galanos wrote.
She said the chief magistrate launched a “disrespectful, inappropriate, unprofessional, unbecoming, unwarranted, loud, nasty, vicious, vindictive and personal attack on me.”
She said the chief magistrate called her a coward.
“She asked me what I was ‘hoping to accomplish by going to the chief justice on her?’ I informed her that I did not go to the chief justice on her and that the only thing I wanted to accomplish was for court to start punctually. She then said to me at least five times, whilst clearly making unfounded assumptions, that ‘what you have planned for me will ricochet back on you’.”
“Each time she said it she got louder, meaner, and more menacing. I was so stunned that I asked her if that was a threat. She astonishingly responded, ‘that is not a threat; that is a promise. I am a child of God and as a child of God I have the power to call down certain things. Whatever you have planned for me will ricochet back on you.”
Galanos said the chief magistrate lectured her about people’s failed attempts to have her removed from office and told her she must “touch not God’s anointed”.
“She kept repeating that she is a Child of God. I calmly responded that, ‘I am a child of God too.’ She then inexplicably and incredibly blurted out, ‘and obeah can’t work on me either,’ to which I replied, ‘obeah can’t work on me either’.”
“She then said, ‘you look like obeah already working on you’.”
Galanos said she told Ferguson-Pratt in 2020 that her mother suffered severe and advanced dementia, was terribly ill, bedridden, and could not recognize anyone. She said she told her about the challenges of taking care of a sick parent and the heartbreak of seeing her mother’s condition every day. She said she and the chief magistrate shared a tender moment and hugged at that time.
“It was a very touching moment and I was almost brought to tears by her apparent compassion and empathy,” she said.
She said on the day of the tense encounter, however, the chief magistrate brought up her mother and said: “that is why you are having the problems that you are having with your sick mother”.
“At this point, I simply could not believe my eyes and ears. I felt embarrassed and humiliated,” she said.
She said Ferguson Pratt continued to attack her and said “you are a coward and a bold-faced liar and you are less honorable than council.”
She said during the alleged verbal assault, Cargill stood and asked if the court could return to judicial matters while the prosecutor, Ms Miah, also stood and requested a 15-minute break to cool off. Galanos said the chief magistrate ignored their interventions and continued her attack.
“By this time, I was deeply hurt to my core that the chief magistrate of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas would publicly stoop to such unimaginable depths to bring up my extremely ill, bedridden mother in a legal matter before her, and even worse, in the considerably unbecoming manner that she did. Needless to say, I started to cry,” she said.
Galanos said she avoided Ferguson Pratt’s court the next day, sending other attorneys instead. She said she received a call from the prosecutor on March 5th saying the judge wanted to see her in private.
She said she went to court but could not go through with the meeting.
“Upon entering court no 9 I became overcome with emotion and I started to cry again,” she said. “As I did not want to face the chief magistrate in that state, I made the decision to leave.”
Galanos sent a letter to Moree on March 21, 2022. She copied Supreme Court Justice Bernard Turner, Ferguson Pratt, and Bahamas Bar Association President Khalil Parker. In that letter, Galanos recalled that the chief magistrate had agreed to recuse herself from all matters involving her clients.
She questioned why Ferguson Pratt decided not to transfer Chappell’s matter to a different judge.
In an affidavit filed on March 24, 2022, Chappell recounted some of the details of the alleged interaction between Ferguson Pratt and Galanos in 2021 as the basis for why he wanted his matter sent to another judge.
Lawyers for the government accepted his request and the judge consented last month. The case was transferred to the assistant chief magistrate for reassignment.