Tough Time: Lawyers Rally Support For Beleaguered S/Court Justices

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    Lawyers across the country Wednesday issued a solidarity statement in support of three Supreme Court Justices that are expected to stand impeachment trail for alleged misconduct, incompetence and undermining of the rule of law.
    The Liberia National Bar Association said it is an attack on the judiciary and its independence, the House of Representatives’ decision to commence impeachment proceeding against the jurists.
    “The Liberian National Bar Association objects to and frowns on the attempt by the House of Representatives to impeach the three named Associate Justices for reasons not supported by the Constitution of Liberia,” The Bar’s president Cllr. Moses Paegar said.

    “The timing of the unconstitutional and illegal action by the House of Representatives to impeach the Associate Justices is particularly troubling given the pivotal role of the Supreme Court in the resolution of disputes which may arise (more certainly than not) from the ensuing October 2017 Presidential and Legislative Elections.”

    The Judiciary Committee of the House of Representatives has served a write of summon on three Associate Justices of the Supreme Court of Liberia to appear for trial after five legislators accused the jurists of undermining the rule of law and filed petition with the House to draw a bill of impeachment against them.

    The justices have been given 10 days ending August 14 to respond to the charges contained in the impeachment petition. Following the August 14 deadline, the Judiciary committee will hold a preliminary hearing to afford the judges the opportunity to defend themselves against the allegations consistent with the constitutional requirement of due process.
    On Tuesday, August 8, 2017 the House’s plenary session adopted a resolution outlining the rules and procedures for the impeachment. Should the jurists fail to file their returns, a declaration of default will be rendered and a bill of impeachment drafted for debate and voting, the resolution reads.
    Below id LNBA’s full statement:

    The Liberian National Bar Association (LNBA) is gravely concerned about attempt by the Legislature to impeach three of the four Justices of the Supreme Court who signed the unanimous opinion and judgment on July 20, 2017 in the Harrison A. Karnwea case in clear violation of Articles 71 and 73 of the Liberian Constitution.

    A stated objective of the Constitution of the Liberian National Bar Association mandates the Bar to “……..help maintain the independence of the Judiciary.” True to its constitutional mandate, in the past the LNBA has taken public positions when issues of grave national concerns were involved.

    We make particular references to positions taken by the Bar and in respect of which press statements were issued on January 30 2007, surrounding the removal of Honorable Edwin M. Snowe, Jr., as Speaker of the House of Representatives and again on January 28, 2008, when the President of Liberia attempted to remove and/or assign certain judges within the Judiciary.

    The LNBA believes that the on-going attempt by the Legislature to have Associate Justices Ja’neh, Wolokolie and Banks impeached requires and compels it to once again take a public position because this attempt is an obvious, frontal, and unwarranted attack, both on the Constitution and the independence of the Judicial Branch of the Government.

    As Liberians, we are all too aware that our Nation has been through a vicious civil crisis which shattered the national fabric of our Country. This has compelled us, as a Nation and People, to pursue the path of national peace and reconciliation to ensure that there will not be a recurrence of this tragic past.

    An indispensable requisite of this path to peace and reconciliation is for all to respect the independence of the three branches of Government as our Constitution mandates. The independence of the Judiciary can only be maintained if the Justices and Judges are able to perform and discharge their judicial functions and responsibilities free of interference and intimidation from the other two Branches of Government. They will not be able to carry out their constitutional duties and responsibilities if they are constantly under threats of impeachment for political and other personal reasons from members of the Legislature.

    Our duty as lawyers and members of Bar is to ensure that we protect the continuity and enjoyment of our hard-won and infant constitutional democracy. Law is essential for the preservation of our freedoms, rights and democracy and the Bar has a duty to ensure that the law reigns supreme at all times and on every issue in Liberia.

    This is not the first time that House of Representatives has acted unconstitutionally. The Bar recalls in 2001, the House of Representatives arrested and detained the late Counselor J. Emmanuel Wureh, then President of the Liberian National Bar Association, on trumped up contempt charges while he was serving as counsel for former Speaker Nyundueh Monkormana. The Montserrado County Bar press statement condemning Counselor Wureh’s arrest and detention and demanding his immediate release was endorsed by the Liberian National Bar Association.

    This led to the House of Representatives’ citing Counselor Marcus Jones, then Vice President of the Liberian National Bar Association, and the late Counselor Ishmael Campbell, then President of the Montserrado County Bar, to appear before the House to show cause why they should not be held in contempt for their failure to retract the statement issued condemning Counselor Wureh’s detention.

    When Counselors Jones and Campbell appeared before the House in response to the citation, they were ordered to retract the statement, pay a fine or be imprisoned for the duration of the Legislative Session. When they refused to do so, they were ordered detained at the Monrovia Central Prison. In response to the imprisonment, the Liberian National Bar Association boycotted all judicial, quasi judicial and administrative proceedings until and unless Counselors Jones and Campbell were released.

    The Impeachment Petition against three of the four Associate Justices alleges as the basis that the Court’s rulings in the Abu Kamara and Harrison A. Karnwea cases, both of which relate to judicial interpretation of the Code of Conduct, were inconsistent.

    The relevant provision of the Code of Conduct is Part Five, Section 5.2 which requires presidential appointees desirous of contesting for elective offices to resign at least two years prior to elections and three years for those holding tenured positions.

    In the Abu Kamara case, the Supreme Court ruled that Honorable Kamara was in violation of the Code of Conduct because he continued to occupy the position of Assistant Minister when he applied to the National Elections Commissions (NEC) for certification to contest for a Representative seat in the October 2017 Presidential and Legislative Elections. Because the Court considered this conduct to be an egregious violation of the Code of Conduct, it ruled that Honorable Kamara be disqualified from being a candidate.

    In the Karnwea case, he resigned as Managing Director of the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) on March 17, 2017, although it was less than the two years required by the Code of Conduct. Additionally, he had previously made a statement at a February 14, 2017 Press Conference that the Liberty Party was the best option for the Liberian people. He made these statements when he was still serving as Managing Director of the FDA.

    The Supreme Court ruled that although Mr. Karnwea’s failure to resign prior to the two years was a violation of the Code of Conduct, the Court determined that because he had resigned his Managing Director position prior to his application to the NEC, his conduct was not egregious in nature but rather was in substantial compliance with Section 5.2 of the Code of Conduct.

    The Petitioners contend in their Impeachment Petition that the July 20, 2017 judgment in the Karnwea case was tantamount to usurpation by the Supreme Court of the functions and powers of the Legislature to make laws. They also contend that the egregious standard applied by the Court in its decision to reverse the NEC which had earlier ruled disqualifying Mr. Karnwea for failing to resign two years prior to the Election amount to lawmaking. According to the Petition, the Court’s ruling and judgment constituted “…..misconduct, gross breach of duty and clear inability to perform the functions of the office of Associate Justices of the Supreme Court…”

    The Bar finds it that although Chief Justice Korkpor also signed the July 20, 2017 Judgment along with Justices Ja’neh, Wolokolie and Banks, the Impeachment Petition singles out Justices Ja’neh, Wolokolie and Banks for impeachment. This clearly demonstrates and evinces that the Petition is not based on any alleged constitutional violation, but is patently discriminatory, politically motivated arbitrary, capricious, and based on personal biases against the three Associate Justices.

    The Bar considers with consternation the Impeachment Petition which, as already indicated, has absolutely no legal or constitutional bases, as a deliberate and calculated attempt to intimidate hamstring Justices of the Supreme Court and other Judges of Subordinate Courts in the performance of their duties. This is also clearly unconstitutional because it undermines the independence of the Judiciary in blatant violation of the 1986 Liberian Constitution.

    In the exercise of their judicial functions, it is unconstitutional for Justices of the Supreme Court and Judges of Subordinate Courts to be subjected to threats of impeachment because of disagreements with their opinions, judgments or other actions. This, the Bar says, is precisely what the Impeachment Petition seeks to accomplish in clear and violation of Article 73 of the Constitution, which provides thus:

    “No judicial official shall be summoned, arrested, detained, prosecuted or tried civilly or criminally or at the instance of any person or authority on account of judicial opinions rendered or expressed, judicial statements made and judicial acts done in the course of a trial in open court or in chambers, except for treason or other felonies, misdemeanor or breach of the peace. Statements made and acts done by such official in the course of a judicial proceeding shall be privileged, and, subject to the above qualification, no such statements made or acts done shall be admissible into advance against them at any trial or proceeding.”

    To ensure the independence of the Judiciary, and to insulate Justices and Judges from the day-to-day political pressure from the other Branches of Government, Article 71 of the Constitution mandates specific objective, legal and constitutional standards for their removal, to wit: “…..conviction in a court of law for treason bribery or other infamous crimes.”

    The Petitioners’ reliance on the other constitutional standards of “……proved misconduct, gross breach of duty [or] inability to perform the functions of their office…” for impeachment without more, is clearly misplaced and inapplicable. The Bar says that disagreement with a decision of the Court clearly does not amount to proved misconduct, gross breach of duty or inability of the Justices to perform the functions of their office as contemplated by the Constitution. The Bar also says that an alleged inconsistent judicial ruling does not meets the high constitutional standard of “…..proved misconduct, gross breach of duty or inability of the Justices to perform the functions of their office.”

    The Liberian National Bar Association objects to and frowns on the attempt by the House of Representatives to impeach the three named Associate Justices for reasons not supported by the Constitution of Liberia.

    The timing of the unconstitutional and illegal action by the House of Representatives to impeach the Associate Justices is particularly troubling given the pivotal role of the Supreme Court in the resolution of disputes which may arise (more certainly than not) from the ensuing October 2017 Presidential and Legislative Elections.

    The Liberian National Bar Association is therefore calling on the Petitioners to withdraw their Impeachment Petition, thus ensuring and confirming the supremacy of our 1986 Constitution.