Litigation: Widow pays cost for letting case linger

Ntombekhaya Maclean, the widow of former Buffalo City Metro Mayor Sindisile Maclean, is faced with a formidable legal bill after Eastern Cape High Court (Makhanda) Judge Murray Lowe ruled she is liable for wasted expenses in a court challenge over her late husband’s estate. Ntombekhaya took on Sindisile’s six adult children in a battle to secure a better inheritance outcome for her family – but backed off after running out of funds to pay her own legal expenses. In a double blow, she is now saddled with costs for a matter that continued for months after she held she had withdrawn it. A Daily Dispatch report says soon after Sindisile died in August 2020, Ntombekhaya received a letter from Matiwane Attorneys, representing six of Sindisile’s adult children. Naming an executor for his estate, the letter informed Ntombekhaya they would remove all Sindisile’s assets for safekeeping.

Last year, Ntombekhaya sought to have their original marriage contract scrapped, asking the court to acknowledge what she said was a de facto community of property arrangement. The Daily Dispatch report notes two months after Sindisile died, Mageza Raffee Mokoena Attorneys agreed to represent Ntombekhaya in pursuing this claim. But in an email in January, Ntombekhaya told the firm she was terminating its services. As far as she was concerned, Ntombekhaya said later, that meant she was withdrawing her application. The firm immediately called the attorney representing the Maclean adult children and informed him the firm was no longer representing Ntombekhaya – but did not withdraw the application. As a result, it remained in the court system, attracting the associated costs. Last week, Ntombekhaya sought to hold the firm liable for those expenses. But that would have meant declaring the firm ‘sufficiently egregious or grossly negligent as to warrant costs order de bonis propriis’. Lowe warned: ‘Such an award is unusual and not easily granted. Negligence in a serious degree is required.’ Lowe ruled that terminating a lawyer’s mandate and withdrawing a case are two different issues.

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