Aarti J Narsee
A TOP magistrate has been suspended after colleagues accused her of abusing her position by gambling during office hours and instructing another magistrate to “do her hair”.
Judith van Schalkwyk, who has been chief magistrate of the Kempton Park Magistrates’ Court in Ekurhuleni since 2004, was suspended with pay last month, pending the outcome of an investigation by the Magistrates’ Commission into her fitness to hold office.
The slew of allegations against her include that she ordered magistrates to attend to her personal matters during court hours, which resulted in court matters being postponed; frequently borrowed money from subordinates without paying them back and asked a specific acting magistrate from her office to hear a case in which she had applied for debt review.
Van Schalkwyk is also accused of delivering judgments she did not write herself when she was an acting judge. The judgments, allegedly written by magistrates under her control and an attorney, were prepared before arguments were heard, her accusers allege.
Van Schalkwyk has strongly denied the allegations, claiming she is the subject of victimisation and harassment. The investigation was sparked by a complaint by Gert Jonker, former chief magistrate of Johannesburg and cluster head for Gauteng until his retirement last week. The allegations are confirmed by several sworn statements.
The commission recommended Van Schalkwyk’s immediate suspension. This was confirmed by Justice Minister Jeff Radebe in a report before parliament last week.
In her representations to the commission, Van Schalkwyk said her relationship with Jonker was difficult and acrimonious, and they had incompatible personalities. She claimed to have been victimised and harassed by him for years because she was a woman.
Van Schalkwyk admitted to gambling, but denied doing so during office hours.
She also denied ordering magistrates to do her chores during court hours, saying she had asked her friends at the court to help her out only when they did not have judicial tasks.
Van Schalkwyk told the commission she had asked colleagues for lifts because she had a phobia about driving after being hijacked twice.
She had been advised by her doctor not to drive after having a heart attack, she said. She had borrowed money from banks and microlenders, as well as close friends, because she had three adult children and was the breadwinner.
She had found herself in dire straits financially after her son was injured in a serious car accident.
On the allegation that others wrote her judgments, Van Schalkwyk said: “I wrote the judgments myself. I used them [magistrates] as [sounding] boards and I used … my friend to type all the draft judgments because she is a good typist.”
The secretary of the Magistrates’ Commission, Danie Schoeman, said yesterday: “A charge sheet has been served on chief magistrate Van Schalkwyk and the Magistrates’ Commission is awaiting her response.”