Should taxpayers foot Arvind Kejriwal's legal fees?

Last Updated: Wed, Apr 05, 2017 13:45 hrs
Kejriwal wants Delhi Govt to pay his legal fees

The defamation suit against Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and other AAP members filed by Finance Minister Arun Jaitely is back in the news. This, after it was learnt AAP sought public money to foot the bill of senior lawyer Ram Jethmalani to represent Kejriwal. The case which is pending before the Delhi High Court pertains to comments made by Kejriwal and others about financial irregularities and mismanagement by Jaitely when he headed Delhi and District Cricket Association. The latter denied all charges and filed a defamation suit claiming Rs.10 crores in damages in the Delhi High Court and a criminal suit in the Patiala House Court.

During the proceedings in court on 6th March, lawyer Ram Jethamalani who was expelled from the BJP, cross examined Jaitely who maintained that he did not interfere in any enquiries or investigations against financial bungling by the vigilance commission as well as the CBI raids. Jaitely said -

I recollect reading from media that defendant no.1 (CM) and may be some others had alleged that the CBI had conducted the raid to take away some files where they alleged that I was named. I am personally unaware of any such details

According to News 18, AAP government has asserted that the legal fee for the case ought to be borne by the government.

Delhi deputy CM Manish Sisodia had asserted that Kejriwal had made his remarks in an official capacity, thereby making the GNCT duty-bound to provide for an eminent lawyer to the Delhi CM. Sisodia had proposed the name of Ram Jethmalani, who asked for Rs 1 cr as his retainer fee and Rs 22, 00,000 per appearance in the court

However, according to court documents, Kejriwal himself has characterised the nature of the suit as private. This report by The Indian Express has contents of the note written by the Sisodia to the General Administration Department.

While the other party is represented by a battery of lawyers, it is imperative that the CM is represented by a senior lawyer. Accordingly, the appointment of Ram Jethmalani as counsel in this case to represent CM is approved. This file need not to be sent to the Lt Governor for his approval. The GAD is directed to take actions like approval of appointment of Ram Jethmalani along with terms and conditions quoted by him.

The same article goes on to say that the Lieutenant Governor of Delhi has also written to the Law Department to seek an opinion on the matter. Faced with criticism, AAP has hit back with a host of allegations against the BJP saying that the issue was being raked up now to distract from the EVM controversy as well as the upcoming MCD polls. According to DNA, AAP leaders also said that

Jaitley was paid large retainership fee for defending a private firm when it was mired in the 2G scam. The party also sought to defend the government's move to pay Jethmalani from the public exchequer, saying the "penniless" AAP and Kejriwal cannot "afford" expensive lawyers.

Jethmalani has offered to represent Kejriwal for free. He was quoted by the Live Mint as saying –

I will certainly defend him even if he can’t pay, but he said ‘no, I want to pay, send us the bills’, so I have sent the bills. Even if the government does not support him, I will. If necessary, I will support him for his livelihood because he is a clean force compared to Arun Jaitley

However, back in 2015, in an interview to Scroll regarding this case, Jethmalani said that he was fighting the case for free. He said –

Listen, I have this reputation that I am a highly paid lawyer, but what many people don’t know is that I earn money from only 10% of my clients. The rest of my work is pro bono. I work free. Sure, I am not charging any fee from Kejriwal and that’s because his government itself is so poor. (Laughs heartily.)

The BJP has pushed back and said that Kejriwal has no right to demand that the tax payers must foot the bill. BJP leader Sambit Patra said that the logic is fallacious.

One India reports that former Attorney General Soli Sorabjee opines that the government must not come into the picture as the case was filed against Kejriwal as an individual and not as Chief Minister.

It is a civil suit. Kejriwal has to pay on his own. How does the Delhi government come into the picture? Delhi's taxpayer money can't be used, Kejriwal in his individual capacity has to pay the bill.

Sreemoy Talukdar writes in The First Post that Kejriwal’s defence is hypocritical and not surprising. Unable to defend themselves, the party has instead launched attacks on Jaitely through social media.

Whether or not Jethmalani fights pro bono isn't the point. Kejriwal is a habitual offender. He has been repeatedly accused of using public funds for self-promotion in contravention of Supreme Court guidelines. It recently invited censure from the Comptroller and Auditor General for spending Rs 29 crore in releasing advertisements outside Delhi

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