Winters failed to tell truth in court
Ex-JNF chief loses claim against lawyers
SIMON WINTERS, the former chief executive of JNF UK, was this week castigated by a High Court judge for failing to tell the truth in a failed legal action he brought against leading lawyers Mishcon de Reya.
Mr Winters, who left the charity he had headed since 1996 this summer, had sought an injunction to stop Mishcon acting for JNF in a dispute over the termination of his employment, claiming that there was a conflict of interest because the lawyers had previously acted personally for him.
But in a devastating judgment delivered on Wednesday after a three-day hearing last month, Mr Justice Henderson found for the lawyers and ordered Mr Winters to pay around £100,000, representing 70 per cent of Mishcon’s costs, within two weeks.
The judge expressed regret that he found Mr Winters’s written and oral evidence to be “highly unsatisfactory in a number of respects”.
The ex-JNF chief executive made assertions which were “often imprecise, partial or exaggerated, and sometimes demonstrably false”, Mr Justice Henderson wrote. “There were times in cross-examination when he seemed to shift his ground as each new point was put to him, and on at least two occasions I found his evidence simply incredible.”
Outlining the background to the case, the judge explained that Mishcon had represented JNF since October 2005 in its dispute with the Israelbased Keren Kayemeth Le’Israel. The two organisations had run up legal fees of £4 million before reaching a draft settlement in February this year. This gave KKL a majority of representatives on the JNF board with new chairman Samuel Hayek in charge.
On June 25 this year, Mr Winters’s solicitors, George Davies, wrote to the then president of the JNF, Gail Seal, saying that the chief executive’s position had been undermined by changes to the management structure.
But two days later, a letter came back from Mishcon, denying that the JNF were in breach of contract and informing Mr Winters that he had been suspended.
The suspension was to enable the investigation of “various allegations of financial misconduct” made against Mr Winters, as well as two other matters: the establishment of an Israeli charity, Nes Eretz Israel, and the bugging of Mr Hayek’s JNF office, the judge wrote.
Mishcon had warned that the JNF “believes that the allegations are so serious that subject to the findings of the investigation, one potential outcome of the disciplinary hearing will be dismissal”.
But in July, Mr Winters started proceedings to stop Mishcon acting for the charity, claiming that the lawyers had confidential information he had given to them.
Mr Justice Henderson found that the lawyers had acted personally for Mr Winters for “two brief periods only” but in circumstances closely linked to their work for the charity. Mr Winters had failed to persuade him that “Mishcon breached the rules in any relevant respect”.
In one episode, Mr Winters had consulted Anthony Julius of Mishcon over a letter two years ago when he threatened to sue the members of the then Glasgow JNF committee for defamation.
The letter concerned allegations made in a dossier compiled by a number of JNF staff which, according to the judge, were “concerned with Mr