Greatness is not generic

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Greatness is not generic

Jason McKay

Sunday, August 02, 2020

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I was blessed as a young man in my 20s to work with many of Jamaica's greatest attorneys in the capacities of a forensic reconstruction expert and trial investigator.

I realised very early that, like in other professions, greatness is not generic. In fact, on many occasions when great talent left the game it was irreplaceable.

I also got an appreciation of specialisation. I realised, for example, that a great prosecutor does not necessarily make a great defence counsel, and vice-versa. It is a profession that I admired then and admire now. I admired different individuals in the profession for the excellence they brought to the game — they often stood out for characteristics that they exhibited uniquely.

They included Ian Ramsay and his knowledge of the law, the oratory skills of Churchill Neita and the fighting spirit of Valerie Neita-Robertson. All were at the top of the game because of what they did best.

Paula Llewellyn was an advocate who, from day one, I realised was going to be great. She stood out from the crowd. She had skills, knowledge and strength. This brings me to the heart of the subject I want to discuss today — her strength.

Recently, there was a call by the Opposition to have her replaced when she applied for an extension. I avoid political issues because, quite frankly, I have a healthy admiration for the heads of both parties and most of the Parliament.

I think political representation is a terrible job, as no one appreciates you and everyone feels they have a licence to abuse and replace you. So on the subject of replacement, I think it is important to explain how difficult it is to replace someone like Paula Llewellyn.

First, do you realise how difficult it is to become the first female director of public prosecutions in our nation's history? This is still a profession that exhibits misogynistic characteristics. So how good did she have to be to break the glass ceiling? Ask yourself that.

So she got the job! How well has she done it?

Well, if my memory serves me correctly, it was an office in public turmoil and it is not like that anymore. Not saying this was the former director's fault, or that of the staff that was in conflict with him. But it is a fact that the office was in the press as an organisation where conflict existed between the staff and its leader.

I do not know who was wrong or right, but there is no such conflict being highlighted in the press now. The perception of harmony and unity in an organisation like that is paramount. That perception exists now.

The office, under her stewardship, has won many cases, but the Adidja Palmer case was the longest and most complex in history, by any international or local standard, and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions won that! Also, the verdict has stood up to appeal.

However, it is her strength that has stood out as a characteristic that is not generic and one that will be really hard to replicate. Can you imagine if she had not been there, how many useless cases that opened the Government up to costly litigation would have been put before the court?

Can you also imagine how many people's lives would have been destroyed defending cases with no merit? Because trust me, allegations that result in criminal prosecutions — whether they be for the offences relating to Government contracts or shooting — destroy lives! The cost, the shame, and the loss of time in a life that is already too short is immeasurable.

Who is to say that the man who will take the job — and I say 'man' intentionally — will have the strength to stand up to the loud shouting and public slaying and say, “This case does not meet the standard for criminal prosecution,” and be okay weathering the hail of printed criticism? Is this 'man' ready to be unpopular; to be slandered? Or will he just throw the public servants under the truck, confident he will not be convicted?

You see, everybody's life and reputation matter. It is not okay to prosecute people who you know cannot be convicted and are probably faultless, just because it makes the public and the inquisitor of the day happy. Public outcry cannot always result in a tribunal with the possibility of a dark cell and an enamel bucket at the end of it.

This concept that human resources are a generic product and that all individuals are of equal talent and ability is ridiculous. This is the mistake that resulted in Jamaica's crime crisis. In the 1990s, the front line police of the day were taken off the line, transferred, fired or shamed. This was motivated by a belief that what they did could be done by anybody.

I would like to think I am competent in high-risk entry and investigations. But put me in charge of a police lock-up and watch the disaster play out. I just don't have the ability to run a jail, nor do I have the experience. This plays out in every facet of life.

President Barack Obama is not replaceable. If he had been, Donald Trump would not be in office. Usain Bolt and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce are not replaceable either. This extends to Ian Ramsay, Paula Llewellyn, Rudy Giuliani and anyone who has shown excellence in the execution of their duties.

We are at a pivotal time in our history, where we are balancing between returning to a time of criminal domination and the beginning of the end of a criminal culture.

Quite frankly, we can destroy ourselves and place the nation on a path that one day leads to the equivalent of the Panama crisis of 1983, or we can be like New York, which was transformed under Mayor Giuliani.

The referee in this battle we are fighting needs to be strong and, quite frankly, oblivious to the rhetoric of the press and politicians.

Don't believe for a minute that those characteristics are available in great supply. It is easy to do the right thing when everyone agrees with you. However, the public rarely sees the case files; what they see are the headlines!

I can't see many out there I would trust to shield the vulnerable from hype and I see even fewer who have the experience in prosecution to carry out the task that needs to be done. In fact, I would say it would be downright reckless to select for this job any attorney who has not spent his career prosecuting Jamaica's criminals.

So when the day does come that Paula Llewellyn can serve and protect us no more, I do not want to see some attorney who is selected not because of his service in the field of prosecution but because of his service otherwise.

This office is the most important job in the country, not just because of what it can do, but also because of what it can prevent.

Politics has no place here. This is a job for the crusader. There is no wealth, no great bonus, no public adoration. So before you apply for this job, ask yourself: “Do I really wanna be that guy?” (Thanks, Beenie Man).

Feedback: jasonamckay@gmail.com


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