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Attorney in midst of Amazon development debacle faces Legal Practice Council complaint

Besides misrepresenting his qualifications, a complaint has been laid against Cape Town attorney Timothy Dunn with the Legal Practice Council by the Willow Arts Collective (WAC).

The collective is a group of about 30 people who occupy the former National Circus School grounds at 2 Willow Street in Observatory. The land is owned by the City of Cape Town and the collective were represented pro bono by Dunn in opposing eviction proceedings brought by the City, until the collective terminated his involvement in August last year. The Cape Town Magistrate’s Court has since ruled they had to leave the property by 31 July.

The collective initiated the complaint against Dunn in August last year, with the collective’s chairperson Shayne Taliona stating in the letter of complaint that given there were “few if any” lawyers willing to take their case pro bono, and that they may as a result be stuck without any legal representation in the fight agains their eviction, they “do not lay this complaint lightly”.

Taliona wrote that while acting for the collective, Dunn had taken on clients whose interests were in direct conflict with those of the Willow Arts Collective.

The clients, states Taliona, were members of the First Nations Collective which supports the River Club development 700 metres away, who claimed to be legitimate members of the Goringhaicona Khoi Khoin Indigenous Traditional Council (GKKITC). They approached the High Court to depose the council’s Supreme High Commissioner, Tauriq Jenkins, who had been leading litigation against the River Club development, and withdraw the council from legal opposition.

This strategy was successful, with Dunn winning a judgement by a full bench in the High Court on 8 November last year.

The judgement handed down by Judge Elizabeth Baartman rescinded an 18 March 2022 judgment by Deputy Judge President Patricia Goliath which halted the River Club development on the basis of insufficient consultation with First Nations people such as the Goringhaicona. Baartman stated Goliath’s judgment had been obtained by fraud on Jenkins’s part. Jenkins, who represented himself in court and was not allowed to submit his 1,500 page affidavit, is currently preparing to approach the Supreme Court of Appeal.

Taliona stated that by working for those who supported the River Club development, Dunn was acting against the collective’s interests. The River Club and land which the collective occupy are both within the Two Rivers Urban Park, and the River Club development would spur densification and support the creation of a proposed 10,000-seater stadium at Hartleyvale, adjacent to the land on which the collective were situated. This is proposed in the City of Cape Town’s Local Spatial Development Framework for the Two Rivers Urban Park, stating the River Club would be a catalyst for development in the surrounding area.

“The outcome is that the River Club and the stadium developments provide a strong impetus for the City to evict the WAC from the property in order to use it for other purposes that would be created by or displaced by the stadium project,” stated Taliona.

Furthermore, the GKKITC led by Jenkins was an important ally to the collective, stated Taliona, having supported their campaign to turn the former circus school into an eco-village and providing support in opposing the City’s eviction application.

“Dunn has been aware of this since he first began representing us in 2020,” wrote Taliona. “His actions against the GKKITC and (in our view) his illegitimate attempt to act on behalf of the GKKITC jeopardises our relationship with these key allies.”

The complaint also details failures on Dunn’s part to file affidavits on time, jeopardising the collective’s case against the City, as well as a lack of transparency about his work with the First Nations Collective and individuals who claimed to represent the GKKITC.

Dunn’s response

Dunn’s response to the complaint was that the River Club and former circus school property at 2 Willow Road were unrelated, that his involvement in the River Club matter had nothing to do with the development but was “limited to acting for a first nation client and its tribe members who have been hijacked and a victim of fraud”. He said his clients “happen to mostly be in support of the River Club development”.

Dunn accused Jared Sacks, who the collective state helped them compile affidavits when Dunn did not do so, and Jenkins of attempting to “ingratiate themselves” with the collective and “use the GKKITC to oppose the River Club development. He stated there is no relationship, “whatsoever”, between the collective and the GKKITC.

He stated it was “apparent that Mr Sacks has control over Mr Taliona” and accused Sacks of writing the complaint against him under Taliona’s name, to benefit Sacks and Jenkins.

Dunn also goes into detail about how he came to represent the GKKITC through Tania Kleinhans-Cedras, who is a member of the First Nations Collective who have vehemently supported the River Club development since announcing themselves in November 2019, and is, or was, a chief in the Cochoqua tribe, which is separate to the Goringhaicona. Kleinhans-Cedras has been seen leading supporters in abusive and obscene chants against Jenkins on the steps of the Western Cape High Court.

Dunn said his objective in “taking the Circus School matter” was to ensure the residents were given suitable housing at the property, or nearby, with the argument being that the City had a constitutional obligation in this regard.

He stated he believed the collective were being used for “ulterior political purposes by the various individuals involved behind the scenes”.

Reply to Dunn’s responses

In their reply to Dunn’s responses, filed on 6 March, the collective noted the apparent defamatory attacks on Sacks and Jenkins and asserted their right to act on their own behalf.

The collective provide evidence in the form of emails that Dunn was well aware of their alliance with the GKKITC under Jenkins’s leadership, as well as their alliance with the Observatory Civic Association which also opposed the development.

The collective provide proof that Dunn was, counter to his claims, well aware of the difficulties the River Club development would create for the collective’s ambitions and that “Dunn himself authored a legal brief which itself includes a discussion of the link between the WAC (Willow Arts Collective) and the Amazon (River Club) Development.”

The collective states Dunn was fully aware that, by acting for three people who claimed to represent the GKKITC against Jenkins, he was acting in favour of the River Club development, even though the collective had expressely told him they were opposed to the River Club development due to the pressure it would place on their ability to stay on the land they occupied

“Dunn’s assertions that these cases are unrelated is therefore disingenuous and clearly false,” stated the collective.

It was reiterated that beyond the conflict of interest, Dunn negligently failed to file necessary affidavits in time or at all, and in many cases, the collective claim, sent them to the opposing party.

The Legal Practice Council has not responded to questions as to when they would rule on the complaint.

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