JNF was scene of endless rows, says lawyer Julius

By Leon Symons, September 12, 2008

The former chief executive of JNF UK must wait until October to find out whether or not his court action against one of the country's top law firms has been successful.

Mr Justice Henderson told both parties at the end of a three-day hearing last week that he reserved his judgment and, because of his own commitments and administrative difficulties, would not able to deliver his decision until early next month.

Simon Winters, who left the charity two months ago following the arrival of new chairman Samuel Hayek, sought an injunction to stop law firm Mishcon de Reya acting for JNF in his dispute with the charity over the end of his employment, alleging a conflict of interest.

Mr Winters is in legal dispute with his former employer and is also suing this newspaper over its reporting of his departure. Mishcon de Reya denies any conflict of interest.

Mr Winters claimed that Mishcon and one of its partners, Anthony Julius, had previously acted for him in various matters and had received confidential information after he had "poured his heart out" to Mr Julius.
On Thursday, Mr Julius was questioned by Alastair Wilson QC, for Mr Winters, about a letter sent by Mr Winters threatening the Glasgow JNF with defamation.

This was in response to allegations in relation to expenses claims made in a dossier compiled by employees, which then appeared in the JC. Mr Winters claims that the letter was virtually dictated by Mr Julius.

Mr Julius told the court there was "no question" that JNF would not bring defamation proceedings in its own name. But he considered it "a very important aspect of my representation of JNF" to advise the charity when individuals were considering actions that could have a bearing on it, particularly at a time when it was embroiled in litigation after falling out with KKL in Israel, which cost the charities around £4 million.

Asked if he considered Mr Winters' interests in sending such a letter [to Glasgow JNF], Mr Julius replied: "I considered that I, as representative of the JNF on an exceptionally high-profile and difficult piece of litigation with KKL, had on my side people who were endlessly rowing with each other and all with an immense sense of their own dignity and importance and who at any moment might break ranks and present a chaotic impression to the other side and do damage to the charity.

"I did everything I could, through exercises of diplomacy, that my guys, my troops, my team, my clients, remained on some kind of fighting order. If that meant indulging them [in] sounding off or something more constructive and shorter term, then I would do that."

He qualified that by adding: "If in the context of the broadest interests of the charity it was necessary to sanction the writing of the letter by someone who was deeply upset and dismayed by the attacks on him, I would certainly raise no objection."

Asked about the interests of Mr Winters and those of a JNF trustee, he replied that they "might be competing in the sense that they had their own interests, but not necessarily conflicting".

Earlier, there was disagreement over the length of Mr Winters' contract of employment. He had claimed that he had sought advice from Mishcon about extending his contract to one year as greater protection after Mr Hayek had taken up his post.

But Daniel Naftalin, an expert in employment law at Mishcon, denied this, saying that Mr Winters had in fact asked about a five-year extension to his contract.

One session on the second day of the hearing was held in camera to discuss parts of a confidential witness statement given by Mr Winters.

Last updated: 5:51pm, September 11 2008