The wheeler-dealer

WHEN Justice Jovial managed to get himself appointed as the Chief Justice of an illustrious high court, his reputation had already preceded him.

For his swearing-in ceremony, a motley crowd of his erstwhile juniors, well-wishers and assorted hangers-on had arrived from his parent high court.

They spread the ‘good news’ in the local Bar about how good, kind and helpful Justice Jovial had always been. It was almost as if they were all salesmen attempting to hawk a tried and tested product in a new marketplace.

It did not take long for Jovial, as Chief Justice, to become a darling of the local Bar. By giving dubious judges assignments of their choice he obliged them and converted them into his admirers. By identifying the big bullies of the Bar rooms and keeping them contented he won over their loyalty as well.

He attended all functions, gave good speeches full of platitudes and never missed an opportunity to rub shoulders with influential politicians. Soon enough, he was accepted and applauded as ‘apne type ka aadmi’ by everyone who was someone.

He would fly down often to his parent high court at the invitation of his followers, of whom there was no dearth at the Bar, thanks to his earlier closeness with them.

However, tales of his ‘cooperation’ with notorious members of the Bar and controversial politicians reached a few relevant ears in the national capital. As a result, when push came to shove in the race for elevation to the Supreme Court, Jovial was shoved aside.

This ensured that he retired as the Chief in that high court instead of being elevated to the ‘Court of Supreme Wisdom’ (CSW) as he had aspired to.

After trying unsuccessfully to get appointed post-retirement to head some lucrative tribunal, he attempted to practice as a senior advocate in the CSW for a little while but found the going tough in the face of competition from entrenched and vested interests in that Bar.

In the CSW, tired seniors were preferred as counsel over retired judges by most AORs. That was when Jovial decided to return to Mumbai and commence ‘chamber practice’. It is by far the best ‘start-up’ for any retired judge, especially if they value practicality over morality.

Chief Justice Jovial (Retd.) opened his new chamber on Dalal Street. Dalal Street seemed an apt name considering Jovial’s specialisation. His specialty was to ‘get things done’. Litigants and lawyers alike soon started lining up to seek his ‘advice and assistance’ in the hope of obtaining favourable Orders.

Jovial used to boast of his past connections with sitting milords who were formerly his junior brethren to bag ‘liasoning’ assignments from money-bag clients.

Among others of his ilk plying the same trade post-retirement, Jovial was by far the best. He was the one who achieved maximum success in his beloved Maximum City!

As far as his liasoning was concerned, some sitting milords obliged him while some ignored him. He did not mind this. As was his nature, he took everything in his stride. He was trusted as a strategy planner and ‘facilitator’ by many because of the past positions he had enjoyed.

The tag of a ‘retired Chief Justice’ of any high court was the best entry pass into the chambers of sitting judges in many high courts.

Chief Justice Jovial (Retd) did not enjoy boring long-drawn-out arbitrations. Quick fixes by direct approaches were far more interesting, effective and remunerative … especially when they clicked.

God helps those who help themselves. This adage materialised and Jovial’s lucky stars shone brightest when a junior judicial colleague from the high court where he had been the Chief Justice got transferred as the Chief Justice in the city where he had by now established himself as a top ‘facilitator’.

Jovial at once renewed contact with his erstwhile junior brother. The new appointee began relying on Jovial’s advice in good faith trusting Jovial’s self-proclaimed expert knowledge of local conditions.

On Jovial’s advice, he started alloting important assignments to the Benches headed by milords helpfully suggested by Jovial. These milords were those who had already been tried, tested and found to be “very practical and cooperative” by Jovial.

The modus operandi was simple. For example, in cases before the Bench taking up municipal corporation matters, violators of zoning and building rules and regulations (mostly monied developers) filed writ petitions challenging threatened coercive actions by the municipal corporation.

Some ‘cooperative’ division Bench would then ask the corporation to examine if the alleged violations could be ‘regularised’ by charging premia and penalties. The corporation invariably sought time to consider what fell from the Bench.

Till they decided, the threatened actions were naturally stayed as the status quo was required to be maintained. The corporation’s legal department would then decide to take the ‘expert legal opinion’ of some retired Chief Justice. And their choice in 90 percent of such ‘opinion cases’ would be..?

Yes, you got it right! It would be Chief Justice Jovial (Retd).

Jovial readily agreed to give their opinion on the fee fixed by the corporation. But the errant developers were made aware that they could augment that ‘fee’ directly if they wanted the opinion to go in their favour.

Thus, for example, if the corporation paid ₹5 lakh ‘officially’, the developers would pay at least four times that amount ‘unofficially’ to Jovial for the legal opinion… After all, the legality of their basic unauthorised structure depended on the opinion.

Then, relying on the opinion, the infirmities were condoned by the corporation albeit by levying appropriate pre-fixed premia and penalties.

This due diligence procedure (including the legal opinion part) would be conveyed to the ‘cooperative’ division Bench which would then approve the regularisation and dispose of the writ petition with its precious seal of approval.

It was rumoured that Jovial shared the booty he accumulated for his opinions with all those involved from top to bottom. It was as good a package deal as these sundry breakers of laws could get anywhere!

Soon, almost every such matter requiring ‘regularisation’ landed on Jovial’s plate for opinion. It did not take time for him to become a millionaire. He was known as the ‘Richie Rich’ among the retired judges plying their trade around Dalal Street.

But Jovial’s motto was never to be satisfied with what one gets. “Always aim for more!” he used to say.

One day, he landed up by prior appointment to meet the municipal commissioner. The municipal commissioner was known to be a no-nonsense guy and Jovial’s reputation too was by now quite well-known. Although he accorded Jovial a cordial welcome, he was still apprehensive about the purpose of this unexpected visit.

After formal preliminaries, Jovial came straight to the point. He said that some law officers of the municipal corporation were “lethargic and uncooperative”. This made things difficult for the division Bench judges. They could not pass “effective Orders” quickly.

Hence, there was an urgent need to shunt such ineffective municipal panel counsel to other smaller courts and to appoint good, young, dynamic up-and-coming counsel in their place to represent the corporation in the high court.

The municipal commissioner thanked Jovial and said he would look into the matter and take a suitable decision after consulting the head of the corporation’s legal department.

As he was about to leave, Jovial casually offered: “To make things easier for you I have brought two names of lawyers who are very well received by the current lot of judges handling municipal corporation matters. You may consider empanelling them.”

Before the commissioner could respond, Jovial had pulled out an envelope from his pocket and handed it to the commissioner who put it in the drawer of his desk. Then Jovial left … and the commissioner breathed a sigh of relief!

The next day, the municipal commissioner called the head of the legal department and gave him the envelope saying: “Please enquire and find out the standing and reputation of these two advocates at the Bar. Are they worth being empanelled as counsel for our corporation?”

After a few days, the legal department head informed the municipal commissioner: “Sir, these two lawyers are not extraordinary in any sense but they do get a very good audience before some Benches where the milords go out of the way to help them.”

Curious to know more, the commissioner inquired: “Any idea why they get such special treatment?”

Legal head: “Sir, I think it is because their father is a retired Chief Justice of another court.”

Municipal commissioner: “Really? What is his name?”

Legal head: “Justice Jovial.”

The municipal commissioner started laughing. Suddenly, it all became very clear to him. The sheer audacity, the shameless brazenness of that portly man with an engaging smile who had met him just a few days ago was unbelievable.

At that moment, the commissioner realised why Chief Justice Jovial (Retd) had become famous everywhere as the ultimate ‘wheeler-dealer’.

The Leaflet