Winters failed to tell truth in court
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 Israel- based 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 Winters' expenses and irregularities relating to Gift Aid." Mr Winters had been "unanimously exonerated" by the JNF trustees in March 2006 after an investigation by forensic accountants.
Nothing disclosed by Mr Winters to Dr Julius "made it improper" for Dr Julius to continue acting for both the JNF and its chief executive, the judge concluded.
But Mr Justice Henderson rejected claims by Mr Winters that Dr Julius had acted for him a year later when he had considered suing former JNF patron David Lewis over letters to the Jewish press about the dossier allegations.
Mr Winters had failed to mention in a witness statement that he had actually instructed his present solicitors George Davies in this matter, the judge remarked. "It provides a graphic illustration of the unreliability of much of his evidence," he declared.
In another passage, the judge said that Mr Winters had "not been frank with the court" in asking another Mishcon laywer, Daniel Naftalin, about the feasibility of a five-year contract with JNF in the event that the charity lost its litigation with JNF. Mr Winters had claimed that he wanted advice about extending his contract from six to 12 months.
The request for five years was "a discreditable one, coming from the chief executive of a major charity, and it is perhaps unsurprising that Mr Winters should now disown it, even though it had the initial support of the trustees," Mr Justice Henderson wrote.
Mr Winters's solicitor, Mark Lewis, of George Davies, said: "Naturally Simon is very disappointed at the outcome. He is considering the judgment. He does find it surprising that the judge can find Mishcon de Reya had acted for him yet allow them to act against him."
Mishcon's said it did not wish to add any comments to the judge's ruling.
Samuel Hayek said: "Although the JNF was not party to these proceedings, it is regrettable that Simon Winters found it necessary to take action against Mishcon de Reya. I believe he was ill-advised.
"I cannot predict how this will affect his legal action against the JNF. We do not want to be involved in a legal case, but if he pursues this action we will defend it."