Is Hlophe off hook?
The five-year high-stakes saga involving Cape Judge President John Hlophe could be over today.
The tribunal set up to investigate alleged gross misconduct by Hlophe began yesterday in Kempton Park, east of Johannesburg, and will have dramatic ramifications, whatever its outcome.
It could result in Hlophe's impeachment.
But his legal team said the tribunal hearing might end today, despite being set down for two weeks, because the two "most important judges in the matter" were not pursuing it.
The essence of the complaint is that, in 2008, Hlophe improperly tried to influence Constitutional Court justices Bess Nkabinde and Chris Jafta to rule in favour of President Jacob Zuma in his arms deal-related corruption case.
The tribunal - retired judge Joop Labuschagne, Eastern Cape Judge Bonisile Sandi and lawyer Nishani Pather - heard conflicting arguments yesterday about whether or not the complaint against Hlophe was valid.
At the time, the Constitutional Court bench lodged a collective complaint with the Judicial Service Commission and issued a public statement confirming this.
Hlophe hit back, lodging a counter-claim accusing the judges of infringing his rights, especially as they had sent their complaint to the media before he had had an opportunity to respond.
Yesterday, Hlophe's advocate, Courtenay Griffiths QC - who represented former Liberian president Charles Taylor at his recent International Criminal Court war crimes trial - argued that, technically, there was no complaint against his client.
The judges' complaint should have been made under oath or in an affidavit, and their failure to do this meant the JSC had no authority to hear the matter.
In an unusual move, Nkabinde and Jafta opted for legal representation separate from the rest of the Constitutional Court judges.
Their attorney, Selby Mbenenge SC, argued that the tribunal had not been convened properly because the required rules for it had not been published.
He said his clients were under no obligation to attend the hearing.
Griffiths responded: "Where does this tribunal go from here when the two most important judges in this matter are saying: 'We are not coming because there is no complaint'.''
Jafta and Nkabinde had made it clear they were not planning to pursue the complaint, Griffiths said.
But Gilbert Marcus SC, acting for the rest of the Constitutional Court judges involved in the matter, maintained that the complaint was valid and there was credible evidence of a prima facie case of misconduct against Hlophe.
Mbenenge will present heads of argument for Nkabinde and Jafta today.
Among those who attended the first day of the tribunal were Judge Francis Legodi, who recently resigned as a commissioner of the arms deal inquiry, and top advocate Gcina Malindi.