Chief justice Mogoeng Mogoeng has admitted he was informed about Western Cape Judge President John Hlophe’s alleged assault of a fellow judge and his verbal attack on his deputy, Patricia Goliath, months before she formally accused Hlophe of gross misconduct and sparked a judicial crisis at the Western Cape High Court.

Goliath submitted a statement to the JSC on Friday, now placing the Chief Justice at the centre of what Business Day legal writer Karyn Maughan describes as ‘the often cringeworthy accusations and counter accusations that define the relationship between the Western Cape’s most powerful judges’.

Maughan points out that Mogoeng’s office has previously welcomed the JSC’s assurance that it would deal with the complaints ‘without fear, favour or prejudice and as expeditiously as reasonably practicable’, but notes the Chief Justice has never publicly stated that he had been made aware of the events that led to those complaints months before they imploded.

In a Daily Maverick report, Marianne Thamm, who has led the way in revealing the shocking machinations bedevilling the Western Cape division, says Nathi Mncube, spokesperson of the office of the Chief Justice, confirmed the meeting and that Goliath had informed Mogoeng that her relationship with Hlophe had become difficult.

Goliath had also told the Chief Justice that two judges had informed her about an alleged assault by Hlophe.

Mncube said: ‘Although she said nothing about her intention to lodge a complaint against the Judge President concerning their relationship, she however indicated that the judge who was allegedly assaulted by the Judge President (Judge Mushtak Parker) was thinking about doing so.’

Goliath had also informed the Chief Justice that the alleged victim had been uncertain ‘about the appropriateness of reporting the alleged assault to the police and the Judicial Conduct Committee’, notes Mncube, according to the Daily Maverick.

‘This was so, she said, because the alleged victim thought the Chief Justice would view reporting the matter to the police and Judicial Conduct Committee as conduct that would bring the judiciary into disrepute.’

Mncube said that at the request by the alleged victim of the assault and another, Goliath had sought to find out from the Chief Justice whether he would have had ‘any principled objection to the allegations being reported to the police and Judicial Conduct Committee’.

‘The Chief Justice told her that any allegation of misconduct against any judge must, in terms of the Code of Judicial Conduct and the Judicial Service Commission Act, be reported to the Judicial Conduct Committee.’

He also highlighted that any allegation of a commission of a crime ‘must, without hesitation, be reported to the SAPS’.

The Chief Justice, said Ncube, had also informed Goliath that failure by any Judge to report these allegations to the structures with the legal authority to address them, ‘would be a betrayal of what judgeship or the judiciary is all about’.

‘The Chief Justice stands by this position and would always encourage any alleged wrongdoing or alleged crime to be reported promptly.’

According to Mncube the Chief Justice restated his position that ‘he never had nor has he now the legal authority to personally deal with these issues outside of the processes under the JSC Act’.

‘Yes, the Chief Justice has been aware of the allegations against Judge President Hlophe since late 2019. But those allegations can only be resolved through the application of the law. It is necessary to emphasise that he does not have the power to resolve these challenges and cannot therefore exercise power he does not have.’

The matter was brought into the public domain when Goliath lodged a 14-page complaint against Hlophe, accusing him of trying to get judges favourably disposed towards then President Jacob Zuma to decide on the legality of the crucial Russia-SA inter-governmental nuclear agreement.

Business Day notes she also claimed that he assaulted an unnamed junior judge, since identified as Parker, who was then influenced by two other judges not to lay criminal charges against Hlophe. Following Parker’s claims that he may have ‘misremembered’ the incident, 10 of the court’s judges recently refused to share a Bench with him, citing his ‘apparent lack of integrity’.

Hlophe in turn said Goliath’s accusations against him were a ‘malicious and bad faith attempt to generate public outrage, lynching and condemnation of my leadership of the division that would support calls for my immediate suspension and removal’.

Goliath has strongly denied that accusation. She has also revealed how Hlophe ‘exploded into a fit of rage and aggressively shouted at me’ after she assisted his wife, Judge Gayaat Salie-Hlophe, when she was injured at the couple’s home. Hlophe has denied assaulting his wife.

Goliath, meanwhile, has filed a reply to Hlophe’s affidavit to the JSC in which she paints a portrait of a brooding man with a short temper who runs the division with an iron fist, notes the Daily Maverick report. Goliath also denied leaking her original complaint to the JSC, lodged in January, to the media.

In March, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, who chairs the Judicial Conduct Committee (JCC), designated SCA Judge Nambitha Dambuza, who is also a member of the JCC, to conduct an inquiry into Goliath’s complaint. The filing of Goliath’s responding affidavit is part of the ongoing inquiry.

It is in this latest affidavit that Goliath reveals she had had a personal audience with Mogoeng.

Hlophe, in his responding affidavit to Goliath’s original complaint, had accused his deputy of seeking to remove him from office and basing her complaint on ‘rumour’ and ‘gossip’. He has subsequently lodged a counter-complaint against Goliath with the JSC.

‘Nowhere in my complaint do I call for the removal of the Judge President from office, or submit that this is an appropriate sanction,’ said Goliath in her affidavit.

It was on her return to the Western Cape division in April 2019, after a year at the Constitutional Court, that the animosity from Hlophe had first flared, says the Goliath affidavit, notes the DM.

Prior to this, the Judge President and the Deputy Judge President had both been involved in case allocations, but this ‘came to an abrupt end’ on her return. The Judge President, said Goliath, had ‘exploded with rage’ when she had visited him in chambers on her return shouting ‘you are rubbish and a piece of shit, get out of my office’.

What had prompted Hlophe’s wrath, said Goliath, was a personal matter between Hlophe and his wife, who had been involved in a ‘domestic incident’ and which had drawn in Goliath. Because of Hlophe’s attack on her in his responding affidavit to the JSC, Goliath said she had ‘no option’ now, but to disclose the incident in her reply.

She said the Hlophe, in his reply, did not deny that he had referred to this incident as the reason he no longer wanted to work with her as his deputy.

‘I note that the Judge President does not dispute that I had taken his wife to hospital, and that she sustained an injury to her hand at his home in Pinelands,’ noted Goliath. She said Hlophe also did not deny that there had been an altercation at Hlophe’s home ‘involving another woman’.

‘He does not deny that his driver drove Judge Salie-Hlophe home in her official vehicle because she was distressed and unable to drive,’ she added.

Salie-Hlophe, said Goliath, had called her on the same day and had asked her to check on her children after a power outage at her home, which is separate from Hlophe’s. On her arrival, Salie-Hlophe had asked Goliath to drive her to hospital.

‘My involvement in their private life relates to one incident only, and I accordingly deny that I was meddlesome, intrusive or nosy in relation to his and his wife’s private lives,’ Goliath said.

More than a year after the incident at Hlophe’s home, Hlophe had told Goliath that her involvement in his personal life prompted his decision to no longer work with her.

According to the DM report, Goliath said that Hlophe had confronted her with unfounded allegations made by Salie-Hlophe which she had attributed to Goliath. Goliath said she had been accused by Hlophe of advising Salie-Hlophe to divorce her husband and expose him in the media.

‘I was completely stunned by these allegations because all I did was provide support to his wife at her request,’ said Goliath.

She added she would not have advised Salie-Hlophe to lay a false charge of assault against her husband.

‘It is unthinkable that I, in my position as Deputy Judge President would encourage any judge to commit a crime.’

The full detail of Goiliath’s responding affidavit, too lengthy to run here, is contained in Thamm’s report on the DM site.

Full Daily Maverick report

Full Business Day report