Chief Justice Sie-A-Nyene G. Yuoh has mandated the Court Administrator Counselor Elizabeth Nelson to withhold Criminal Court ‘D’ Resident Judge Sikajipo A. Wollor’s salary, benefits and allowances for now, until an outcome of the Judiciary Inquiry Commission (JIC) investigative report, which that is not expected sooner.
Justice Yuoh’s decision comes days after Judge Wollor challenged his suspension claiming that it was without due process and a complete contradiction of several judicial instruments that include the 1986 Constitution, and the Judicial Canons governing the legal profession.
Justice Yuoh suspended Judge Wollor, claiming that there were two separate complaints filed against the judge that were grave judicial irregularities that pose serious risks to the Judiciary and the general public.
The Chief Justice further claimed that she had forwarded to the Judiciary Inquiry Commission (JIC) the said complaints for investigation in consonance with existence policy on such matters.
While the complaints are yet to be investigated by the JIC, the chief justice has mandated her court administrator to withhold the salaries, allowances and benefits of Judge Wollor.
Meanwhile, Judge Wollor has communicated with the three other Associate Justices to include, Jamesetta Howard Wolokollie, Joseph Nagbe and Yussif Kaba for their immediate intervention for what he termed as “Justice Yuoh’s” illegal and unilateral decision.”
In Yuoh’s letter dated October 13, which Judge Wollor claimed to have received on November 2, the Chief Justice instructed her court administrator, as saying, “you have been mandated to withhold Judge Wollor’s salaries, allowances and benefits, until this matter is finalized. I trust you will act accordingly to avoid any further administrative sanctions.”
She continues, “Judge Wollior is suspended from all judicial duties/functions with immediate effect. Your suspension shall remain in full force and effect, pending final determination by the Supreme Court.”
With this, it means that Judge Wollor will not be able to get his salaries, allowances and benefits, until she and her colleagues can resolve any recommendations that have resulted from the JIC’s investigation, which is far from happening anything soon.
Her communication did not indicate as her action was triggered by the JIC’s recommendation as it has been done with the punishment of judges.
It also did not contain the signatures of any of the three Associate Justices depicting that she took her decision uniliteral, though she said, it is in consonance with existing policy on such matters. Besides, she did not explain any of the policy that gives her the right to withhold salaries, allowances and benefits of the sitting judge that was nominated by the president and confirmed by the senate, as it was done with her case.
Judge Wollor’s letter to the three Associate Justices, he said, “Up to present, I have not been able to receive any communication from the JIC regarding the complaints, which Justice Yuoh relied on to instruct the court administrator to withhold my salaries, allowances and benefits pending the outcome of the JIC’s investigative report.”
The Judiciary Law of Liberia, otherwise known as Title 17 of the Liberian Code of Law revised, provides for the establishment of the Judiciary Inquiry Commission (JIC).
The JIC is an auxiliary established within the Judiciary with the exclusive power and authority to receive and investigate complaints against judges of courts of record and non-record in the Republic of Liberia for violation of any provision of the Judicial Canons.
The Chief Justice has the power to appoint members of the Commission. In appointing members of the Commission, the Chief Justice appoints an Associate Justice to serve as Chairman while the Chairman of the Grievance and Ethics Committee serves as the Secretary of the Commission.
The Judicial Canons are intended to establish standards for the ethical conduct of judges. They are rules for all judges to uphold and promote the independence, integrity, and impartiality of the Judiciary, and also avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety; moreover, judges must perform the duties of judicial office impartially, competently, and diligently.
According to the JIC notice of proceedings and manner of service, the complainant must first file a written complaint before the offices of the chief justice. If the Chief Justice sees any magnitude of the complaint, he or she can forward it to the JIC for investigation and recommendations.
However, for a judge to be suspended or removed. the JIC must make a copy of the charge available and deliver it personally. Also, the JIC has the power to serve the judge the charges by mail, publication, or “otherwise as the JIC may direct; and in either event, he must be allowed an opportunity of being heard on his defense.”
The JIC, after conducting its investigation, must forward findings and recommendations to the Chief Justice for implementation. However, if the accused is not satisfied with the JIC investigation, the judge has the right to challenge it before the Full Bench of the Supreme Court for argument and subsequent judgment. The accused judge will be represented by his lawyers, and the JIC is represented by a team of lawyers appointed by the Supreme Court, while the appointed chair of the JIC, who happens to be an Associate Justice, will have to recuse himself or herself from the proceedings because that justice already participated in the JIC's recommendations.
With the recusal of the single justice, the remaining four justices would hear and decide the JIC's recommendations. And, if there is a tie among the four justices during the voting, then the Chief Justice will have to communicate with the President of the Republic of Liberia to appoint an Ad Hoc Justice from among the judges of the lower courts as a tiebreaker.
It is after these procedures that the Chief Justice can announce the punishment or reverse the decision of the JIC.
However, Wollor is claiming that at no time did he receive a written complaint from the JIC that he has violated any rules of the judicial canons to warrant his indefinite suspension by Justice Yuoh.