Cambodian Bar Association President-Elect Suon Visal said Tuesday he will not comply with the Appeals Court order for him to step down until the court reveals details of the closed-door hearing in which the judgment was reached. His refusal is the latest development in a legal battle for the guild’s presidency that has polarized the association’s membership.
On Friday, the Appeals Court threw out the results of the Oct 16 runoff election that elevated legal aid lawyer Suon Visal to the presidency and ordered defeated incumbent Ky Tech to resume the post immediately.
The court has yet to produce an official document declaring the verdict or explaining the legal reasoning behind the judgment. Until such a document is presented, Suon Visal said he will continue to work as the association’s president.
“Even though I want to respect the judgment, I have no proof” of the verdict, he said.
Since Monday, both Suon Visal and Ky Tech have reported to work at the bar’s Daun Penh district offices, conducting parallel presidencies literally only a few rooms apart.
Ky Tech occupies the president’s office. Suon Visal said Ky Tech locked the president’s office shortly after the October election and refused to hand over the key. Suon Visal said he works in the library. Both men said Tuesday that they were acting as the bar’s official president.
“I don’t want to lead the bar, but the Appeals Court allowed me to serve the interests of the bar,” Ky Tech said Tuesday.
Lawyers familiar with the bar’s dealing said Tuesday that the legal standoff has alienated members and fractured the Bar Council, the 19 member governing body that approves most official guild decisions.
Council members have divided their allegiances between Ky Tech and Suon Visal, with supporters of one potential president boycotting or disrupting meetings called by the other.
“I will boycott the council meetings…. Ky Tech took the power illegally,” council member Ket Khy said Tuesday.
Fellow member Puth Theavy said he has not yet decided whether to continue attending the meetings, but said he was “ashamed” of the bar’s internal fighting. A deadlocked council, he said, would render the bar virtually useless.
“The president is powerless. The power is in the hands of the council members,” he said.
The legal challenges to the election, and the resulting division within the bar’s ranks, were a partisan attempt to weaken what is supposed to be an independent association, Suon Visal said.
“The [Appeals] Court tried to destroy the bar,” he said.
Suon Visal filed an appeal Monday to the Supreme Court, he said. He also sent a written appeal to the Ministry of Justice asking the ministry to intervene and overturn the section of the judges’ ruling that ordered Ky Tech immediately reinstated.
According to an order dated March 4, 2004 from Supreme Court Director Dith Monty to the country’s court, a ruling cannot be enforced while an appeal is pending with a higher court.
Suon Visal’s letter also protested a complaint lodged prior to the Appeals Court hearing by prosecutor Hanrot Raken, which challenged the Oct 16 vote on the grounds that apprentice lawyers were illegally allowed to vote in the election.
Apprentice lawyers have been eligible to vote since the bar’s formation in 1995, Suon Visal said. He also produced a copy of the association’s bylaws, reviewed and approved by Hanrot Raken in 2002, which also state that apprentice lawyers are eligible to vote in bar elections.
Calls to Hanrot Raken were unsuccessful Tuesday.
Reached by telephone Tuesday, Justice Minister Ang Vong Vathana said he had not seen the request and did not know what action the ministry might take.
“I’ll have to ask my people what exactly we can do. Maybe we cannot do anything,” he said.