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Public officials should be like Caesar’s wife

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

In 62 BC, the Roman Republic was rocked by a scandal involving some of its most notable politicians. Publius Clodius Pulcher, a powerful senator, was charged with sacrilege for violating the rites of Bona Dea, a celebration that was exclusive to women of high rank.

The event was held at the home of Julius Caesar—as part of his role as the pontifex maximus—and was hosted by his wife, Pompeia. Clodius was accused of entering the house disguised as a woman with the intention of seducing her. Caesar gave no evidence against Clodius at the trial but would divorce his wife nonetheless; a draconian action that would be immortalised by the contemporary expression, “Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion.”

This idiom serves as a warning to public figures to exercise caution with personal associates as the improprieties of others could reflect poorly on them and ultimately lead to their professional downfall.

The controversy surrounding the Chief Justice entered a new phase of complexity with his legal team’s attempts to the halt the Law Association’s investigation into his alleged misconduct. Undeterred by this challenge, members of the legal fraternity are set to meet on March 15—the Ides of March—to invoke a little Shakespearian drama and engage in further discussion on the matter.

As it stands, the Judiciary is now in a de facto state of civil war. Both sides are claiming to be acting in accordance with the law and in the best interests of the country. There’s no telling how long this impasse is going to last or what the final outcome will be, but irreparable damage has already been done, and the reputation of this branch of government will forever be tainted.

However, as if the fiasco involving the appointment of magistrate Marcia Ayers-Caesar wasn’t enough to question his professional competency, his alleged attempted use of the office to benefit a personal associate has also brought his very character into question.

One of the perks of having power is using it to help out your friends. And if you’re a person without it, the next best thing is having a powerful friend who likes doing you favours. The key to getting away with such patronage is by exercising discretion. However, if discovered, it helps to have a well-prepared cover story in the form of plausible deniability or a reasonable explanation.

The accusation that he allegedly greased the wheels of HDC bureaucracy to expedite the housing applications for a number of individuals wasn’t terrible per se; after all, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a politician who hasn’t done the same. But the accusation that one of those allegedly “favoured” individuals stood to benefit from a contract to service members of the Judiciary is something that cannot be ignored, especially if the CJ is said to have allegedly used his authority to pressure his colleagues into endorsing the proposal.

To date, Justice Archie has failed to properly refute the allegations made against him. And his attempts to stave off the investigation by resorting to legal manoeuvring could be perceived that he has something to hide; to use another Shakespearian adage—he doth protest too much.

The heart of the matter isn’t the nature of the CJ’s friendship with the before-mentioned individual, but whether said individual has taken advantage of the friendship and compromised the CJ. No one should have to suffer for a poor choice of personal relations, and the CJ needs to put the good of the country before his pride and privacy.

Even if the court rules in his favour and deems that the Law Association has no authority to investigate him, he nonetheless has the responsibility to do the honourable thing. Because, like Caesar’s wife, the Chief Justice should be above suspicion as well; and at present he’s giving the population reason to think otherwise.

Ryan Hadeed


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