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Courtenay Coye LLP and Douglas Mendes paid half a million dollars and counting for legal work; legal partners turned Senators exempted

Posted: Monday, June 13, 2022. 8:02 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes: Within days of being sworn in as Senators, the powerful legal duo of Eamon Courtenay and Christopher Coye wrote Governor-General Sir Colville Young requesting exemption under Section 64 (2) (f) to keep their seats despite the possibility of the Government retaining their firm to act for them on various legal matters.

In exemption letters released today by Prime Minister John Briceño in response to United Democratic Party Senator Michael Peyrefitte, written separately on December 18, 2020, the attorneys each separately affirmed to the Governor-General that they were not aware of any current contracts with the Government, expressed the possibility that their firm could be line for such contracts, and affirmed that others at the firm, headed by Senior Counsel and Eamon’s wife Denise Courtenay, were capable of handling affairs without their intervention. The Governor-General granted the exemptions in his reply five days later.

Coye recently emphasized to reporters that “I’m not sure how it would be a conflict of interest, I have no involvement. Senator Courtenay and I are both on sabbatical from the law firm, we have no involvement with the law firm at this point in time but at least for the period of our official service to the government. As far as any action or matter which the government engages the law firm for, that is between the relevant department and the law firm, there is nothing hidden in what is occurring, who we are as far as our declared position. We have gone through all the relevant processes for that according to the law.”

Since then, the firm has done work at a value of $277,842.50, covering what the Prime Minister calls “[the] unsuccessful claim” made by Peyrefitte against the Government and lottery tax matters. Mendes has been paid a further $224,745.73 for unspecified legal work. In both cases, the P.M. indicates that the work is ongoing and further unquantifiable sums may be paid.

The Prime Minister notes that Courtenay Coye LLP is not the only private firm retained by the Government and so there is no question of either competence or preference. Mendes, a former judge of Belize’s Court of Appeal, was also retained by the former Government on key matters, he added.

The disclosure came after an initial letter from Peyrefitte on May 24. In a television interview on May 25, the Prime Minister conceded that the counsels in the Attorney General’s Ministry are “junior” compared to seasoned attorneys like former Prime Minister Dean Barrow, and so outside counsel are employed to “put up a good argument in court.” He suggested that “Courtenay Coye is probably the best law firm in the country” but are not exclusive pick when the Government goes shopping for legal representation.


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