Updated | Judge’s testimony suspended after flare-up from defence

Evidence by Judge Quintano suspended after lawyer Giannella de Marco takes him to task over sentencing of drug trafficker Darren Desira.

Judge Lawrence Quintano: 'my conscience is clear'
Judge Lawrence Quintano: 'my conscience is clear'

Magistrate Neville Camilleri had to suspend Judge Lawrence Quintano's evidence in his courtroom, after tensions flared with lawyer Giannella de Marco, who said her client Darren Desira had been sentenced to 18 years by Quintano after discussing the judgement with disgraced Judge Raymond Pace. She described the situation as "like the mafia in power," where judges would discuss jail time to suspects, in this case Darren Desira.

Quintano was summoned as the prosecution's witness in the compilation of evidence against former judge Raymond Pace, who was arrested and charged last December with corruption, trading in influence and money laundering.

Pace, who is pleading not guilty to all charges, is said to have approached Quintano while preparing to hand down judgement on Desira, to influence his appeals sentence after Pace befriended other rival drug traffickers who corrupted him to ensure Desira gets maximum punishment possible.

When summoned to testify this afternoon, Judge Quintano admitted that although it was not common that judges or magistrates approach each other when judgements are being prepared, Pace had in fact gone to see him. "I was approached by Pace while I was writing Desira's judgement. He asked me how much drugs were involved, and I told him about two kilos. He replied: be careful, this is a serious one," Quintano said.

Quintano explained that he used a previous judgment handed by retired judge Joseph Galea Debono as a guide for judgement, as it involved a similar case of importation of drugs. "I really don't know why I am here," the judge said, adding that he never allowed anybody to interfere in his judgements. "Should that ever happen I would literally kick him out of my sight."

But Quintano insisted on his clear conscience, and was bold in his replies to lawyer Giannella de Marco, who appeared in parte civile for Darren Desira, who is currently serving his jail time, and found himself to be at the heart of Raymond Pace's arrest, resignation and subsequent prosecution.

"I will appear before Almighty God before all of you, where I will be judged," Quintano remarked.

Quintano and de Marco traded salvos in open court over the Galea Debono judgement he mentioned in his evidence, prompting the judge to curtly reply: "you should have followed what I was saying very carefully."

He then went on to say: "I will not repeat, we are not at kindergarten here."

While de Marco called on the court to warn Quintano "not to be hostile", it was decided to suspend his testimony to another date.

This remark prompted de Marco to urge Magistrate Neville Camilleri to see that Quintano replies to the questions and not to be hostile.

It was here that Magistrate Camilleri asked Quintano to lower the tone of his voice, and to answer the questions put to him by prosecutors and defence lawyers.

Initially, Quintano had told the court that he could not remember what was said between himself and Pace, but he later explained that he tried to be "polite" with his former colleague because he was running out of time to draw up his judgement.

Quintano then refused to answer Giannella de Marco as to how he had considered the motivations behind his judgment on Desira.

The judge said he was replying only because it was the magistrate who was asking the question, explaining that when Pace had approached him in his chambers, they spoke on something which was unrelated. Since Pace was a sitting judge in the Court of Criminal Appeal, together with two judges, he then enquired about the Desira case which Quintano had been working on.

It was here when Pace asked him about the case, and told him to be "careful", in a reference to the seriousness of the case and its merits.

Quintano said that the motivations behind the conviction handed to Desira were based on his discretion at law, and Desira's early admission of guilty before standing trial by jury, and the amount of drugs involved.

He added that the case had been quite unique, without similar cases to carry out a diligent benchmarking exercise. "I had to sweat blood to come to a decision," Quintano said. "Everything behind my motivations are explained in the judgement," Quinatno stressed, adding that he still could not understand why he had to testify in the Pace compilation.

"I have been at a standstill for four whole months because of all this," he said, adding that he never revealed anything to anyone about the jail term he was going to impose on Desira, and that it was "mathematically" possible for anyone to guess what sentence Desira would get for pleading guilty to the charges.

Tensions ran high as lawyer Stefano Filletti, who is appearing for Raymond Pace, objected to Giannella de Marco's line of questioning, stressing that the case here was not against Quintano, but against his client.

"This is neither Darren Desira's appeal hearing, and neither a case against Quintano, so let's cut it out," Filletti retorted.

But de Marco lashed out, arguing that Quintano's attitude was making her job as a lawyer very difficult, accusing defence lawyers Stefano Filletti and Joe Mifsud of "malicious" behaviour.

"The way things are unfolding, they look terribly worrying... it's like the mafia's in power where judges discuss with each other what jail suspects get."

Given the tension in the courtroom, Magistrate Neville Camilleri suspended the sitting and asked Judge Quintano to return and appear for further cross-examination.