San Ignacio’s sitting Magistrate, Nardia Morgan, this week indicated that the police informed her that there is a threat against her safety.
She decided to move the trial of Mexican student, Zurisday Villansensor Mendez, 22, from the Corozal Magistrate’s Court to the Belize City Magistrate’s Court. As the trial proceeded in Belize City there was a pronounced police security presence.
The case against Mendez began after Corozal Police searched two rooms at the Las Vegas Hotel in the Corozal Free Zone last December and came up with several guns, including AK 47s, 144 rounds of ammunition, magazines and communication equipment that they connected to Zurisday Mendez. Police also found several small parcels containing illegal drugs.
Mendez is facing charges of illegal firearms and ammunition possession as well as drug trafficking.
On Tuesday morning, a deployment of heavily armed BDF and policemen in camouflage with mask covering their faces took up security positions outside the Belize City Magistrate’s Court, where Mendez’s trial is in progress..
But the security posture outside the courtroom soon became a matter for litigation inside the courtroom.
Mendez’s two defence attorneys, Dickie Bradley and Arthur Saldivar, instead of making closing submissions, after the prosecution closed its case on Tuesday, mounted a constitutional challenge.
They informed the magistrate they will be approaching the Supreme Court, protesting that their client cannot get a fair trial under the prevailing circumstances.
Whenever a constitutional matter arises, the case must be stopped at that point and the question put to the Supreme Court for adjudication.
When a constitutional matter was raised in the trial in Corozal, the magistrate decided on her own, Saldivar pointed out.
Saldivar told The Reporter that security outside the court in Belize City is nothing new.
“From the time the matter went to court in Corozal last November, the authorities have been deploying a large amount of security forces around the court house,” Saldivar said.
Saldivar said that the case started in the Corozal Magistrate’s Court with Magistrate Clive Lino presiding.
Then Magistrate Morgan left her court in San Ignacio to preside over the trial in Corozal.
“Not to suggest that the defence was seeking any particular magistrate, but when there was no reason given as to why a new magistrate was brought in, the spectre of bias was raised,” Saldivar stated.
Saldivar said that as a result of that, a challenge was raised to find out from the prosecution the reason for the change of magistrate and the introduction of a magistrate from Cayo to inquire into a matter in Corozal.
The Reporter asked Saldivar if such an occurrence in the magistracy was normal.
He said, “It is not normal, but it has happened before, when a magistrate is sick or on vacation.”
Saldivar added that it is not the Chief Magistrate who transfers magistrates, but it is the Judicial Legal Services Commission that is tasked with the transfer of magistrates.
But no documentation was brought to suggest that the Judicial Legal Services Commission has instructed this magistrate to appear.
Saldivar told said, “We were told that she was sent by her superiors, but she did not specify.”
He added that Magistrate Morgan called him on Monday to tell him that she had received threats. The threat was not made to her directly. It was relayed through the police, he said.
Saldivar said he called Superintendent Ramirez from the Corozal formation and Ramirez told him that he did not have a conversation with the magistrate.
According to Saldivar, DPP Vidal, who is handling the prosecution’s case, allegedly told him that the first time she heard about the threat to Morgan, was when she (Morgan) told her.