‘Rebel with a cause’

HIGHGATE, St Mary — On the way to the funeral for her friend and legal colleague Antoinette Haughton-Cardenas, Valerie Neita-Robertson, KC, had a chance encounter that, for her, summed up exactly who Haughton-Cardenas was.

In her tribute Neita-Robertson spoke of a man — one of a group of individuals who helped her after one of her morot vehicle tyres got a puncture — who told her about his experience of having Haughton-Cardenas as his lawyer.

“When I win the case I get together the money to pay her and when I carry it to her she count it and gave me half,” Neita-Robertson said the man told her.

She also spoke glowingly of her late friend’s expertise as a lawyer.

“Her service was considered by many to be guaranteed by excellence. If you have Ms Haughton as a lawyer, you must get off,” she told those gathered at St Cyprian church in Highgate, St Mary.

Neita-Robertson recalled a time when they faced off in court.

“Ann reached over to me and said, ‘Hey girl, the rebel in me meet the rebel in you’,” Neita-Robertson said, adding that this memory was a reminder of the magnitude of the woman Haughton-Cardenas had been.

Neita-Robertson was among those who offered glowing tributes during the funeral on Saturday.

Haughton-Cardenas’ only child, Cheik Gordon, was unable to attend but a touching tribute was read on his behalf. In his remembrance of his late mother, Gordon declared that she was larger than life, with an infectious personality and a knack for touching the lives of many with whom she came into contact.

“Her love was contagious. She would say she was lucky to have me in her life but I was the one who was lucky to have her in my life,” he said, adding that she also had a lot of non-biological offspring whose lives she impacted positively.

In his tribute to his sister, Courtney Haughton defined Haughton-Cardenas as someone not to be trifled with, who refused to be defined merely by her gender, race or nationality.

“She became the voice for the voiceless, making her platform as a daytime host on the popular talk show accessible to the ones who needed it the most,” he said of her stint as host of RJR’s Hotline. “She was always in such demand as she fought for the marginalised, the discriminated against. We all knew that my sister was destined for greatness. From a young age, from her performances on the local stage with Louise Bennett poems to leading the Excelsior debate team to victory and receiving the Prime Minister’s Award for Excellence in debate.”

But there was no getting away from the challenges Haughton-Cardenas faced later in life. She found herself on the wrong side of the law after being accused of misappropriating funds from one of her clients in 2009. That same year the General Legal Council, acting upon a recommendation by its disciplinary committee, struck her from the roll of attorneys allowed to do legal work in Jamaica.

When her case came before the Corporate Area Court in December 2009, her attorney, Terrence Ballentine, told Resident Magistrate Judith Pusey that his client was sick and the warrant was stayed. But when Haughton-Cardenas did not show for a mention date in another matter in St Thomas two months later, a warrant was issued for her arrest. The stay on the first warrant was also lifted.

The disgraced lawyer fled the country and stayed away even during her father’s funeral in June 2012. She never returned before she died.

In stark contrast to that tainted history, an emotional Neita-Robertson pointed out, towards the end of her tribute, that money was never the driving force for Haughton-Cardenas. To support her point, she noted that her late friend took on a significant number of legal aid cases.

And she placed the blame for Haughton-Cardenas’ legal troubles at the feet of others.

“The misfortune that befell her wasn’t of her own hands but due to the betrayal of trust and loyalty. In the end she sacrificed her home in order to survive, to provide for her son who she loved more than herself. She survived the storm and she blocked her freedom away and that led to the pain that engulfed her, not for herself but her family,” said Neita-Robertson.

Lauding Haughton-Cardenas as a beacon who worked tirelessly to bring families together, someone who represented consciousness ideas, she reminded mourners that her dearly departed friend wasn’t defined by fear and sorrow but rather by the love she had for her family, her country and her people — and an unwavering commitment to justice.