WHEN ONE DOOR CLOSES...

From convicting accused persons as magistrate to being a lawyer

Bryan Khaemba swapped the bench for the bar after Waititu case clouded career

In Summary

• Khaemba has dismissed claims he took a bribe from Waititu as the public believed

• He has created a niche for himself as a lawyer barely two years after leaving judiciary

Principal magistrate Bryan Khaemba during the hearing of a ruling over his dismissal on grounds of abuse of office on August 30, 2019
Principal magistrate Bryan Khaemba during the hearing of a ruling over his dismissal on grounds of abuse of office on August 30, 2019
Image: ENOS TECHE

He is the magistrate who went viral for ruling that drunk driving is not a crime, but months later, he left the Judiciary amid allegations that he took a bribe from former Kiambu Governor Ferdinand Waititu.

Lawyer Bryan Khaemba, a former magistrate, sat down with the Star for his first-ever interview since the Waititu saga two years ago.

Khaemba says he was born and raised in a small village in Bungoma county. The fourth born in a family of six, he endured hardship and is the only one in formal employment.

“My mother was selling porridge in a market called Kapkateny in Mt Elgon. She was supplying porridge to the other market operators every Thursday and Saturday. Out of the income of that business is where we were earning our livelihood,” Khaemba said.

He went to a day school, which was seven kilometers away. He had a chance to join Friends School Kamusinga but missed out due to financial constraints.

Khaemba would walk to school every day even though it was far in a bid to quench his thirst for learning. But a year later, he moved to stay with his grandmother in order to go to a day school near her home.

He passed his KCSE exam despite school fees difficulties and surprised everyone by emerging position 85 in the whole nation.

He joined the University of Nairobi to study law, and that was his first time to come to the city that he would read about and see on TV.

CAREER PROGRESSION

On what inspired him to study law, Khaemba says he admired how Siaya Senator James Orengo and his Makueni counterpart the late Mutula Kilonzo argued their cases in court. So he decided to pursue law and luckily, he passed his exams and got admission.

After graduation, he joined the Kenya School Law and at the same time got work at the law firm of now Westlands MP Tim Wanyonyi as a pupil.

Even before he was admitted to the bar in 2007, he got a job at the Immigration office as a prosecutor at the investigations department. He was admitted to the bar a year later in 2008.

In 2010, the Judiciary advertised for a position of district magistrate. He applied and was hired.

He was posted to Kigumo law courts, where he served until 2015, when he got a transfer to the Kibera law courts

“I was transferred to Nairobi because I had been elected as secretary general for KMJA and my office was in Milimani,” he said.

He served at KMJA for two terms and later vied at the East African Magistrates and Judges Association and was elected.

“It’s for all judicial officers in East Africa. I served for one term of two years,” Khaemba says.

THE WAITITU SCANDAL

In 2019, Khaemba was thrown into the headlines for the wrong reasons after it was alleged that he received a bribe to rule in favour of Waititu.

The former magistrate has dismissed the allegations, saying he never received any bribe and the media was not covering the correct position of events as they happened at that time.

“I could not defend myself at that time because as a judicial officer, you cannot call a press conference to counter what is being said in the media or clarify,” Khaemba says.

He says even the employment court agreed with him and ruled there was nothing wrong with him granting anticipatory bail to an applicant.

“Contrary to what was being said to the public, I was never a sick man. What came out to the media, it appeared like I was in an ICU bed then Waititu called me and said, 'Come and help me', and I told the doctor to put me in an ambulance to go and sort out someone in court,” he says.

Khaemba says on that day, he called the head of station and told her he would report to work late and, since he was on transfer to Thika, then he would just be in chambers, writing judgments.

While in his chambers, he was approached by the head of criminal registry, who informed him that he was the only magistrate who was not sitting in court and should handle a certificate of urgency that had been filed by a lawyer who was impatient.

“The head of the criminal registry came with a handwritten note from the duty magistrate, saying, 'If you are not in court, I'm told there is an advocate out there who has become impatient and I can’t leave court to attend to certificate, handle it so that we don’t embarrass the station',” he says.

Khaemba proceeded to attend to the case, which turned out to be Waititu's, granting anticipatory bail. This sparked an uproar and the then CJ David Maraga sent him on unpaid leave for alleged abuse of office.

However, Khaemba sued the CJ for interfering with his work, and the court ordered that he be reinstated and posted to a new station.

Khaemba did not expect that the Waititu matter would be out in the news to that magnitude, even after he had given a chronology of events leading to his decision.

“As it continued, I got used to it because I have gone through some serious training when I was at Immigration, which has made my body and mind ready to face any challenge,” he said.

Though he left the Judiciary shortly afterwards, Khaemba denies the allegations influenced him. He said he had planned to leave and that case simply gave him the push to finally jump ship to the bar.

“I am doing much better than when I was a magistrate in terms of everything, even my health, I have increased in size,” he said.

By the time he was leaving the Judiciary, he had risen the ranks to the position of principal magistrate.

Even though Khaemba is new to practice, he has managed to land some high-profile cases in court.

He is one of lawyers representing former Sports CS Rashid Echesa in his corruption case and has managed to get several wins against the state in the case.

POLITICAL AMBITIONS

On his political ambitions, Khaemba says his name will be on the ballot come 2022, contesting for the position of MP in Kimilili constituency.

The lawyer, who will be up against the incumbent Didmus Barasa, says it’s the constituents who have approached him to go and represent them.

“People of Kimilili have gone back to the drawing board and said the graph of leadership in terms of MP has drastically gone down since the exit of Dr Eseli Simiyu, and they are looking for someone who can take it back to where it was,” he says.

Khaemba does not have a social life as much because the little time he gets is used to travel back home to address the issues of the people of Kimilili.

“When you are a part-time political practitioner and a full-time legal practitioner, your free time goes to the part time,” he says.

Khaemba is happily married with three children — two boys and one girl — and his wife works for Nairobi City county.

Edited by T Jalio