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Lawyers almost come to blows at heated LSK meeting

What should have been a housekeeping meeting of learned friends yesterday turned into a heckling contest punctuated by thinly veiled insults as the Law Society of Kenya (LSK) suspended all 10 council members in a heated, chaotic convention.

LSK’s Gitanga Road office could have passed for a busy open air market, as some lawyers voiced their opinions while shouting down those that opposed them.

The Special General Meeting (SGM) was called to discuss the appointment of auditors to probe LSK’s books of accounts, deliberate on an impeachment motion against Mr Havi, the suspension of some council members and the appointment of advocates to represent the lobby in court cases involving internal wrangles.

Months of infighting have split the LSK into two factions—one backing Mr Havi and another on CEO Mercy Wambua’s side.

Yesterday’s SGM was called to settle the differences that have threatened to stall operations at the lawyers’ umbrella body.

After more than five hours of an impasse over how to proceed with the meeting, Mr Havi dismissed the impeachment motion filed against him by lawyer Gad Aguko, just moments after members suspended the council. The council oversights the LSK’s operations, just as boards of directors watch over companies.

Odede resigned

Mr Havi made it clear that ongoing efforts to unite the two factions will likely not work, an indication that the fights at the society are a long way from over.

“We have listened to your calls that we unite. But you must realise the queer nature of this… We come here with differences. There has been interference and I’ve taken to the podium here and said who is interfering with the running of LSK. So don’t come and tell me to unite with those people,” Mr Havi said.

Council member Roseline Odede resigned just moments before the vote suspending her colleagues. Ms Odede cited a hostile working environment, and had recommended that the entire council resigns.

The suspension motion initially targeted the eight council members believed to be on Ms Wambua’s side.

Bernard Ngetich, Aluso Ingati, Carolyne Mutheu, Faith Odhiambo, Linda Emukule, Beth Michoma, Ndinda Kinyili and George Omwansa are believed to back Ms Wambua and oppose Mr Havi.

But the motion was amended in the course of the meeting to include the two council members allied to Mr Havi — Herine Kabita and Esther Ang’awa.

Only 300 lawyers were physically present at LSK’s Gitanga Road headquarters, while more than 3,000 attended the meeting through online platform Zoom.

Prominent lawyers

Some of the online attendees, like prominent lawyers PLO Lumumba and Linda Obonyo, were denied a chance to speak when Mr Havi brought on the floor the first motion—whether or not to hire audit firm Parker Randall.

Ms Obonyo was granted a chance to speak hours later, but Mr Havi ordered that her microphone be muted the moment she demanded that the voting on motions be done through a proper poll other than a show of hands.

Several other lawyers attending the SGM online, who either demanded a proper poll involving counting of supporters and opponents of motions, or those who said anything against Mr Havi’s control of the heated session, were also quickly muted.

Those physically present and in disagreement with Mr Havi did not have it easy either.

When the now suspended Mr Omwansa demanded that the voting proceeds via a poll, Mr Havi branded him a saboteur. In a somewhat sense of irony, Mr Havi had pushed for the SGM to have Ms Wambua removed, but the LSK President came face to face with the same axe as a section of lawyers sought to impeach him with less than a year in office.

Traded accusations

Ms Wambua sued the LSK last year to stop her removal, and the High Court issued orders barring the discussion of the case or her removal at the SGM. That was not to be as the two factions traded accusations in the course of the meeting.

Mr Havi accused Ms Wambua of sabotage, while the CEO maintained that a false narrative was being created against her.

Mr Havi has been in office for just under 11 months now, but his term has been divisive as he now leads one of two factions at the LSK, which are in the middle of a vicious battle for control of the institution.

Yesterday, lawyer Caroline Thuo described the war as the elephant in LSK’s room, warning that it could disrupt the institution’s smooth running.