When a judge reprimanded sugar firms over many cases

Justice George Odunga.

President William Ruto has lately gained notoriety for ordering West Kenya Sugar owner Jaswant Singh Rai to withdraw cases he filed against Mumias Sugar or face dire consequences.

However, this is not the first time the sugar baron was asked out of court.

The first person to order the billionaire investor out of court after suffering his company’s litigious nature and that of a rival was then High Court Nairobi Constitutional Division judge, Justice George Odunga.

Odunga was handling one among the many cases between West Kenya and Butali Sugar, which involved the reclusive turban-dotting tycoon challenging Butali’s right of operation.

The companies based in Malava constituency, Kakamega County, were filing case after case on the topic and in multiple jurisdictions (forum shopping) with the hope either license of operation could be revoked based on cane catchment areas.

The High Court was particularly not happy with what it characterised as “imperialist tendencies” between the parties, forcing it to call the “Malava siblings” to order.

Odunga warned the parties not to “hog the judicial process” by instituting a multiplicity of suits denying other litigants the opportunity to have their grievances addressed.

Fiery as they are, the sugar litigations, especially those that took queue following the controversial Mumias lease of December 2021, were a blessing in disguise for some lawyers.

This lot is mostly in Kakamega, where Mumias is based, and Nairobi, popular among their peers as “sugar daddies” are said to have been happy with the developments that followed the lease.

“I have seen players in the justice system, especially my colleagues, buy top-of-the-range vehicles because of handling the Mumias cases,” said a lawyer keen on sugar matters.

On fees, the lawyer who preferred not to be named said his colleagues charge between Sh3 to Sh5 million to handle a sugar case, especially those sponsored by a “major interested party in running Mumias".

It is hard to dispute the lawyer’s sentiment with the usually pompous court appearance by some lawyers to handle court cases.

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