Judge Dahn’s ‘Judicial Misconduct’ Probe Abandoned?

A view shows the Temple of Justice in Monrovia, Liberia on November 3, 2017. (REUTERS).

It appears that the Judiciary Inquiry Commission (JIC), the arm of the Supreme Court responsible to investigate complaints of unethical conduct by judges, may most likely not hear the complaint of alleged judicial misconduct accusation against Judge Roland Dahn of the 8th Judicial Circuit Court in Nimba County.

This is because the unethical conduct case against Judge Dahn is not among the twelve cases of judicial misconduct that involve ten judges being scheduled by the JIC to hear beginning Thursday, October 7, 2021. The eight-member commission is a mix of lawyers, judges, and eminent citizens, but the current commission is dominated by five judges, a lawyer, and two religious leaders.

The judges are; Associate Justice Yussif Kaba, chairman, former Associate Justice George Henries, Judge Roosevelt Z Willie, Judge Ousmane Feika, and Judge Serena F. Galawolo. Counselor Jura Lynch, who is the only lawyer and a member of the commission, represents the Liberia National Bar Association (LNBA).

The two religious leaders also include Rev. Father Michael Tuan Due, Sr., and Sister Mary Laurene Browne. All are appointed by the Supreme Court headed by Chief Justice Francis Korkpor. Their deliberations are secret and they operate under some of the most judge-friendly rules in the country.

As an oversight body that investigates misconduct complaints against judges, their authority is distinct from the power held by appellate courts, which can reverse a judge’s legal ruling and order a new trial. Judicial commission cannot change verdicts. Rather, they can investigate complaints about the behavior of judges and pursue discipline ranging from reprimand to removal.

The case of Judge Dahn is filed by a British national, Hans Armstrong, who accused Dahn of being in several telephone conversations with adversaries in person of Nanborlor Singbeh, the current Secretary of the Senate and his accomplice, Chapman Logan, while his (Amstrong’s) criminal case was ongoing in Nimba County.

And, while responding to Armstrong's complaint to the JIC in 2020, Judge Dahn admitted in the document to the commission that he did communicate with Singbeh and Logan. Judge Dahn then said, “I remember discussing with him and I told him to discuss with his lawyers. He knows me and I know him, and once someone knows you, he or she can call you. It is true that I communicated with him but not often.”

The other judges whose cases form part of Thursday's Investigation include J. Vinton Holder of the Monthly and Probate Court, who has three separate complaints of judicial misconduct, as well as Sikajipo A. Wollor of the Criminal Court 'D' in Monrovia, who, like Holder, has two separate complaints of unethical conduct to face.

Others are; Judge Peter W. Gbeneweleh; Roosevelt Z. Willi of Criminal Court 'A' in Monrovia; Yamie Quiqui Gbeisaye, assigned Judge at the 9th Judicial Circuit Court in Bong County; Ceaineh Clinton Johnson of Criminal Court 'E' in Monrovia; George W. Smith of the 15th Judicial Circuit Court in RiverGee County and Sheaplor R. Dunbar of Civil Law Court 'B' in Monrovia.

The remaining two are Magistrates James B. Cooper and Victoria Y. Gbalazeh of the Duo Magisterial Court, Zah Chiefdom, Saclepea, Mah Statutory District, Nimba County.

It can be recalled that Judge Dahn and Armstrong's Investigation was first heard on Thursday,May 6, 2021, but was suspended immediately due to Armstrong's February 15, 2021 communication to the commission, where he expressed fear that he was finding it difficult to obtain a lawyer from the Liberia National Bar Association (LNBA), the umbrella organization of lawyers in the country, on ground of reprisal by members of the National Associate of Trial Judges of Liberia (NATJL), also an umbrella organization of judges.

Nine days later, Associate Justice Yussif Kaba, who currently heads the JIC, on February 24, 2021 through a communication, offered Armstrong for the commission to request Chief Justice Francis Korkpor for a lawyer to represent him.

Kaba's letter said, “Predicated upon the above, the commission would like to know if you would be pleased for us to request the chief justice to kindly instruct the public defender office to provide you with adequate legal representation throughout the tenure of the Investigation of your complaint before us.”

Surprisingly, instead of providing Armstrong with adequate legal representation, Chief Justice Francis Korkpor assigned Judge Dahn to Nimba County. "We were informed that Judge Dahn is currently assigned in a faraway county, which assignment will make it difficult to transport him to and from Nimba County to Monrovia to attend the hearing," the source said.

Also, Supreme Court lawyers, who pleaded for anonymity, observed that such behavior has the potential to erode trust in the justice system, and could give judges the opportunity to behave with impunity. “When you see cases like this, the public starts to wonder about the integrity and honesty of the system,” a senior lawyer noted.