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MUTUNGA DIVORCE

Saturday, May 21, 2011 - 00:00 -- BY ISAAC ONGIRI

A divorce case filed by Dr Willy Mutunga against
his wife Prof. Beverle Michele Lax, and a cross petition filed by her to counter it, may be raised in Parliament on Thursday when MPs
debate his nomination as Chief Justice. Hearing of the divorce case is scheduled for hearing next month in Nairobi.

MPs opposed to the nomination of the reform-minded Dr Mutunga have got copies of court files where the lawyer and his wife mutually accuse each other of neglecting the marriage.

Mutunga's nomination has been well received by the public but Eldoret North MP William Ruto and NCCK Secretary Peter Karanja have bitterly criticised his selection. Last Sunday, Ruto said Kenya needed "prayers" because Mutunga wears an ear stud.

Mutunga has been married twice, had two children with his first wife and two children later with two other women. He married Prof Lax in San Mateo, California on July 20, 2000.

Mutunga filed his petition for divorce in Nairobi on December 16, 2009. On May 13, 2010, Lax filed an answer to his petition and a cross-petition for divorce.

Mutunga's petition accuses Lax of treating him with "cruelty" since they were married. "The Respondent is a person of ungoverned temper and on various occasions during the course of the marriage, the Respondent has physically and verbally assaulted the Petitioner," Mutunga stated.

Mutunga seemed particularly upset by his wife's destruction of his academic thesis on "landlord tenant relationships in Kenya." "Some time in 2003, the Respondent knowing fully well that the Petitioner had only one copy of his LLM thesis, tore up, mutilated, and destroyed that single bound copy of the thesis," Mutunga's petition states adding that the act was intended to cause him "maximum psychological, emotional and intellectual pain".

Mutunga also claims "During the entire duration of the marriage, the Respondent has persisted in calling the Petitioner's ex-wife, daughter and son from his first marriage, "parasites", knowing at all time that such name-calling was causing and did cause the Petitioner immense pain and torture". Mutunga had two sons with two women in 1993 and 1999 and his petition insists that Lax knew of this.

The petition alleges Lax "cruelly persisted in abusing the two boys and their mothers" although Mutunga "always made it clear, and the two women have always understood that his only relationship with them is strictly with regard to the maintenance of his sons".

The petition claims "On various occasions in the year 2009, the Respondent has accused the Petitioner of wanting her dead when she underwent surgery at Stanford University Medical School" yet Mutunga "helped her through her recovery for over six weeks and was at her bedside for the 5 days she was admitted to hospital"

Lax also "falsely and maliciously alleged" that "in an attempt to murder her during her hospitalization, he pulled off her oxygen mask while she was in hospital, causing her to pass out after her surgery, knowing full well that she passed out due to her allergy to the drugs administered by the attending physicians. Indeed the Petitioner was overcome by grief during the incident prompting an attending nurse to lead him out of the ward".

However Prof Lax in her answering petition and cross-petition denied some of Mutunga's allegations and accused him of being a "pathological liar".

While Lax "admits that she tore the Petitioner's thesis, the Respondent (Lax) states that the same was done out of provocation from the Petitioner, and the same is regretted". She states that in her view the damage was repairable and there was more than one copy of the thesis.

Lax denied that she had an "ungoverned temper" but said that the couple "had arguments, which is normal in any relationship and does not amount to assault".

Lax denied called Mutunga's children and former wife "parasites" or that she abused the two other mothers and their sons who she says she never met. Lax denied ever saying that Mutunga wanted her dead.

In her cross petition, Lax accused Mutunga of having a "violent and uncaring attitude" towards her and said he "concealed the existence of his relationship with women whom he had sired children with".

The petition claims that Mutunga concealed from her the financial assistance he was giving to his children and that he "kept an open relationship with his former wife".

In 2008, Mutunga gave some Tanzanian stools to a friend but Prof Lax claims she discovered they were given to a former girlfriend. Lax's petition also claims that in 2008 "he had a business trip while he had all along planned to visit two of his girlfriends in Canada."

Lax also says Mutunga "denied the Respondent her conjugal rights" and did not visit her in New York when she was in hospital having treatment for hepatitis. Lax complained that Mutunga informed her of his decision to divorce her by email while her mother was battling with cancer.

Lax also claimed that on 2009 she was "duped" by Dr Mutunga to invest in a condominium in California so that she could stay there while he stayed in his home in Nairobi.

Through her lawyer Judy Thongori, the American scholar wants Mutunga’s petition thrown out with costs, but the marriage dissolved by her cross-petition and Mutunga
ordered to pay the costs.

Speaker Kenneth Marende has set next Thursday for the final debate in Palriament to confirm or reject Mutunga's nomination as Chief Justice along with Nancy Baraza as Deputy Chief Justice and Keriako Tobiko as Director of Public Prosecutions. The parliamentary Committee on Legal
Affairs chaired by Budalangi MP Ababu Namwamba is expected to vet Dr Mutunga beforehand.