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Judge dismisses wife-killer Jason Rohde’s application for her recusal

Wife-killer Jason Rohde has suffered yet another blow in a series of legal setbacks.

Gayaat Salie-Hlophe, the Cape Town high court judge who convicted him, has dismissed the property mogul’s application for her to recuse herself from his bail application.

Rohde is pulling out all the stops to stay out of jail after the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) dismissed his application to overturn his convictions for murder and defeating the ends of justice in October.

He had 48 hours to report to Plettenberg Bay police station to begin a reduced 15-year sentence, antedated to 2019.

The 52-year-old got a minor reprieve after his lawyers succeeded in having his bail extended pending his appeal to the Constitutional Court. Rohde also applied for Salie-Hlophe’s recusal but she dismissed the application on Thursday.

Rohde said there is “an objective basis to submit that there exists a reasonable apprehension of bias warranting” her recusal. He also raised a complaint submitted by Cape Town high court deputy judge president Patricia Goliath to the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) about how the matter was allocated to Salie-Hlophe.

He also complained that his forensic psychiatrist should have been allowed to complete her testimony during his trial before Salie-Hlophe. The SCA agreed with Rohde on this.

Rohde also described the language of Salie-Hlophe’s judgment as “emotive” and said the judge “committed an irregularity” when she made “an interlocutory order when [he] was absent … for medical reasons”.

He took issue with Salie-Hlophe’s decision to amend a “previous media ban” regarding  his children, and found it odd that Salie-Hlophe delivered her 254-page judgment on the day after closing arguments.  

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In the application for Salie-Hlophe’s recusal, Rohde also raised that the judge had previously refused him bail. 

The JSC dismissed Goliath’s complaint in March, and Salie-Hlophe said: “Counsel readily argued that, viewed in isolation, this ground does not suffice as a basis for recusal but it must be seen in the context that the trial was conducted by myself in a manner in which [Rohde] views as being unduly harsh or with the aim to convict Mr Rohde of the charges of the murder of his wife and staging her death as suicide.

“This ground is without substance, based on misleading and incorrect facts.

“[Rohde] has an apprehension that I may make an adverse finding in a further bail application. However, an apprehension of fear on an adverse order is not basis for recusal. This is a fundamental legal principle.”

Rohde’s trial spanned almost one-and-a-half years in the high court. “At no stage was a recusal application sought,” the judgment reads.

“The trial unfolded over a considerable length of time which contained therewith numerous rulings, directives and orders made by the court including relaxation of [Rohde’s] bail conditions on a number of occasions during the trial until judgment was delivered.

“Furthermore, various findings of facts and credibility are set out in the judgment, including the development of jurisprudence in relation to legal principles, which were not set aside.”

Salie-Hlophe said her previous decisions to deny Rohde bail and leave to appeal are not a good reason for her recusal in his current bail application.  

“It is part of a judge’s training to treat each and every application and matter with an open mind which is ready to be persuaded based on new facts and the applicable tests and applicable legal principles and tests at that juncture,” she said in the judgment.

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“The question as to whether [Rohde’s] apprehension is reasonably held, based on correct facts, is not complicated: [Rohde’s] reference to internal matters at the court, which only obliquely involves me as presiding officer in the instant matter, is, respectfully, scandalous to the court, and not in any way sufficient to shift the presumption of impartiality.

“It is also based on incorrect facts and vexatious efforts to smear the judiciary in an effort to show that my hearing of the matter and subsequent bail hearings has some imputation of misconduct or malfeasance on members of the judiciary in conjunction with the officers and staff of the court.

“It is an argument of 10 grounds built on sophistries to kick up dust and in that way bully a judge off the bench in the matter.”

Salie-Hlophe said she exercised her duties in accordance with her oath of office.

“In my view these grounds seen individually or accumulatively do not meet the benchmark to warrant my recusal. It simply serves to create sensation,” the judgment reads.

Salie-Hlophe dismissed the recusal application and postponed the bail hearing to November 11.

“Should [Rohde] not proceed with the bail application as contemplated … above, he is ordered to report to Plettenberg Bay police station in terms of the notice to undergo imprisonment issued by the registrar of this court … failing which he is to be arrested forthwith and committed to serve his sentence of 15 years’ direct imprisonment,” Salie-Hlophe ruled.

Eric Ntabazalila, spokesperson for the prosecution, said the prosecution would oppose the bail application.

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Rohde killed his wife, Susan, with whom he has three daughters, in a room they shared at Spier wine estate near Stellenbosch, in July 2016.

TimesLIVE

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