Characters in this story:
Jason Doe — Criminal defense counselor who was interested in the case
Janet Love — Cllr. Doe’s private secretary
Judge Dunbar — who felt the need for justice
Sam Dennis — Private Detective
Clarisa Jay — one of the several women recently returned from Lebanon and seeking justice
Helen Joe — Another woman also seeking justice
Criminal lawyer Jason Doe readjusted himself on the big swivel chair in his office and grimaced as his private secretary Janet Love entered the office. She shut the door behind her and with a grin said, “A young lady of about twenty-three wants to see you.”
The lawyer grimaced and said, “Did she make an appointment?”
“No,” Janet Love said, “but I think she has a case that she wants you to handle.”
“She told you that?”
Janet Love smiled, and said, “She tried to say something about a promise for a better future that did not turn out to be that.
“She looks extremely hurt because of what she describes as a major disappointment happened outside Liberia; that is, it happened in a foreign land.”
The lawyer began to drum his fingers on his table, and said, “When is the next appointment coming in to see me?”
“In about 15 minutes.”
“Ok,” the lawyer said, “then I’m prepared to hear what the young woman has to say…and what she said is her name was?”
“How well dressed is she?”
Janet Love looked away from the lawyer with a smile and said, “Chief, she is like daddy’s girl who did not get the promise she deserved as a little girl.
“Her hair is braided with an attachment, and that is in no way suggestive that she is well to do since Monrovia girls love to dress. She is about 5 feet 4 inches and weighs about 140lbs, indicating to me that she is careful about her weight.
“One thing about her – and this, Chief is how girls in Monrovia love to do – that is her eyelashes are prominent as they are straight looking at you, and they give her face a beautiful look.”
“Ok,” the lawyer said, “you have interested made to be interested in this girl and I think I can see her now.” Still laughing, Janet Love turned around swiftly and was out of the room.
A few seconds later, the lawyer’s doors swung open, and Janet came along with a young woman who walked towards the lawyer, with her eyelashes staring at him.
The lawyer used his head to direct the young woman to a nearby chair, as he heard his secretary grabbing a pen and paper to jot down in shorthand what was about to transpire.
The young woman seated herself and pulled her blouse over her knees after she placed the left on the right, and lowered her gaze.
“Your name is Clarisa Jay?” the lawyer shot back at her. The woman lifted her head slowly and as it met the gaze of the lawyer, responded, “Yes.”
“What do you want me to do for you?”
“I have been looking for a good lawyer to handle an important case, and a friend of mine mentioned your name and I came to find you.”
“Ok,” said the lawyer. “You know I am a criminal lawyer and therefore I don’t handle any other case…”
The young woman responded, “I know but this case can only be handled by you.”
“Why don’t you tell me what your case is about because I am expecting a client in 15 minutes.”
The young woman took a deep breath and responded, “You don’t make it easy for me to say what I want to say.”
“But you came to see me because I am a lawyer?”
“And you are ready to tell me about your case right now?”
“Yes,” she said, and lowered her head, “but I don’t have money to pay you even if you decide to take my case.”
The lawyer regarded her for a second and said, “Ok don’t let me or don’t think I am not interested in your case because you don’t have money to retain me. Lawyers are people with conscience who fight for the dignity of others.”
“Can I tell you my story the way it happened to me?”
The lawyer responded, “That’s what I want you to do.”
The young woman turned her side and grabbed a long lady’s purse, and placed it on the table before the lawyer. His private secretary Janet Love was busy scribbling in shorthand what was taking place. At one point the young woman turned nervously to look at her.
The lawyer, observing it, said, “Are you Mrs. or Ms. Jay?”
“I’ve never been married and so Ms. Jay is fine.”
The lawyer said, “Ms. Love is my private secretary and so don’t feel any apprehension about her presence here.” The young woman swept her eyes at Ms. Love, whose smile gave her some reassurance.
Ms. Jay said, “Before I begin to tell my case, what is that you do for your clients, Mr. Doe?” Her question elicited a smile from the lawyer, and though he assumed that whoever recommended him to her might have told her about what he could do for his clients, but felt that it could hurt restating his objective as a criminal defense lawyer.
So, Jason Doe said, “My answer is in two words: I fight, but to give some clarity, it means I fight for my clients and I go the extra mile to get them justice.”
The young woman said, “I like that spirit and I want you to know though this is not a criminal case, it is more than that.”
“Ms. Jay, Ms. Jay…you are among more than 10 young women who were recently brought from Lebanon?”
“Yes,” she replied and suddenly tears formed in her eyes, “for five years I was in Lebanon with other girls and we want justice, but it does not seem that we can have it.”
Cllr. Doe was aware of the story that local dailies described as ‘Deceptive Promise,’ when the girls were promised education and jobs in Beirut that turned out to be domestic work; they were poorly paid, physically assaulted by their madams (the women they worked for), and even tortured when they spoke up against their inhuman treatment.
The lawyer had followed the case, held in Tubmanburg, Bomi County, and knew that the case was thrown out due to legal technicalities against prosecuting lawyers who had not regularized their memberships to the bar; and how the case had inconsistencies and therefore had no basis in the court of law. The lawyer knew also that the accused, a Lebanese national, was released from further detention.
Cllr. Doe was also aware that the case ended and prosecutors had been trying to get the case restarted and the defense had said the case could not be tried twice, invoking the principle of ‘double jeopardy.’
The lawyer turned to Ms. Jay said, “Ms. Jay, it is interesting that what is being discussed by prosecutors and lawyers is the principle of ‘Double Jeopardy’ a procedural defense that forbids a defendant from being tried again on the same (or similar) charges in the same case following a legitimate acquittal or conviction.
Cllr. Doe said “Though there is an appeal to the Supreme Court for reconsideration…that is to say to look into the case, but the defense, I’m convinced, could enter a peremptory plea of autrefois acquité or autrefois convict, which ‘autrefois’ means ‘in the past’ in French.
“It also means that the defendant has been acquitted or convicted of the same offense and hence that he cannot be retried under the principle of ‘double jeopardy.’”
Ms. Jay said, “Does it mean the issue is dead?”
The lawyer replied, “While I cannot be forthright to state the obvious, the principle is that if prosecutors raise the issue, evidence will be placed before the court which will normally rule as a preliminary matter whether the plea is substantiated; if it is, the projected trial will be prevented from proceeding.
“In some countries, the guarantee against being ‘twice tried’ is a constitutional right; but in other countries, the protection is afforded by a statute.”
Jason Doe regarded the young woman for a while and his heart went out to her. If the law could not give her justice, who could? It was an interesting question since the Liberian initially believed in their cases and made submissions to the Lebanese government to resolve what the young women went through.
The other side of the story, Cllr. Doe knew, was the ‘pain and suffering’ that his client went through, and he chose to put it before her.
“Ms. Jay,” he said, “from newspaper reports on your case, you claimed you were abused and even denied the basic needs as a human being?”
“Yes,” she said, slowly. “I was thrown in jail, and it was there I was tortured. At one time I was placed in a room with low temperatures, and the most hurting thing was that they took away my clothes and I thought I was going to die.”
The lawyer folded his hands across his chest, as the young woman ended her explanation. He knew this woman deserved some justice and could not understand why it had not happened or why no one had believed her.
“What attracted you to volunteer to go to Lebanon?” the lawyer said, trying to ease the high tension that had built up. “What was really attractive?”
“I wanted to go to school and be able to get a job, and I was misled to believe that I could get them in Beirut.”
“Did you get any commitment on paper that those were possible?”
Ms. Jay said, “No, there was only a verbal commitment. Another issue was that I was told not to inform anyone about the trip.”
“For fear that someone could block my way,” the young woman said. “Through ‘juju’ because there have been stories that those who revealed what they were planning to do or to travel abroad ended up dead or something else happened to them.”
“And so you kept everything that the man who helped you to travel to Lebanon told you to yourself?”
“Yes,” she said and began to sob.
Criminal lawyer Jason Doe could understand the need for justice when he saw one and the case he had heard and previously read about in the local dailies and its conclusion in Tubmanburg, Bomi County, intrigued him. His interest has risen after one of the victims, Clarisa Jay, sought his help to get justice.
Counselor Doe knew that an accused could not be tried twice on the same charges after he is acquitted from the case and from all indications the case about the Lebanese businessman who reportedly ‘misled’ more than ten Liberian young women with the good things of life, took them to Beirut, Lebanon only to turn them into house-helps and the case was thrown out, is one.
After he held an hour’s conference with Ms. Clarisa Jay, he chose to make a presentation at the Supreme Court and seek some accommodation.
As a disciple of the law, Jason Doe knew he must defend justice and if the law, after a lengthy trial concluded that an accused was not guilty of the crime, then, of course, he is not guilty. However, he also knew that the law could be blind since he was convinced of Ms. Clarisa Jay and her friends’ emotional suffering when they were encouraged to travel to Lebanon for the hope that was never there.
Though he told Ms. Claisa Jay the law seemed to have ganged out against her and her friends, he assured her that he would fight for her, a promise that elicited a smile on her sad face that she could not help but made some comments about the lawyer’s growing reputation.
“Your love for justice is remarkable, Mr. Doe,” Clarisa Jay said, smiling, despite her pain.
The lawyer’s smile was radiant, as he nodded his head, saying, “I’m convinced that though a man cannot be tried twice for the same crime, there is much circumstantial evidence to work in your interest and to give you a sense of closure.”
The young woman could not help but extend her right hand to that of the lawyer’s and pumped it vigorously. And she was full of smiles when she left the lawyer’s office.
Three days afterward, Jason Doe sat in a conference with Judge Joshua Dunbar. Also, presence was Mr. Isaac Debone, the Lebanese businessman who was exonerated from his role in the case, Ms. Clarisa Jay, Private Detective Sam Dennis, Ms. Helen Joe and a lawyer, Willie Guy, who was representing Mr. Debone. The occasion was possible because of the insistence of Counselor Doe and Judge Dunbar had agreed to make an experiment of the case.
Judge Dunbar said to the gathering, “It would seem an unusual meeting here after the particular case in question is done with and I want to make it clear that this gathering does not suggest any attempt to go against the principle of the case since it was concluded.
“It is, however, instructive to take note that when another human being claims she or he is abused on a venture that had had a positive intent from the beginning, as this case suggested to me, then we have the right to do a proper investigation and be able to say I’m sorry.”
Judge Dunbar’s statement was supported by Counselor Doe who also stated that the Liberian society lack many advantages that it is too easy for anyone with an amount of cash and connections to get the most vulnerable part of the society to make compromises that would shock those who are strangers to the things that are done in Liberia.
“I share Judge Dunbar’s position that when a situation is about human dignity and those who were hurt made it clear to the rest of society; it is then incumbent on all of us to ensure that we recall the part of our humanity that makes us all one human family.
“Hence we must have the decency to admit what we may have done that did not turn out as expected and hurt the dignity of others.”
Private Detective Sam Dennis said after years of investigating events that affect human beings, particularly as they relate to those who believe that the bread is always buttered in the next house, the available evidence speaks clearly of the truthfulness of Ms. Clarisa Jay and her friends’ claim of inhuman treatment in Lebanon.
Dennis lifting his huge frame from the swivel chair, moved about as he made his points, drumming the message home that the young Liberian women whose future hung in a balance in a strange land, where there was no way out of their predicaments, deserved every sympathy.
He concluded his statement and regarded Mr. Debone, who lowered his head to avoid that of the detective. Observing it, Councilor Doe made an attempt to speak but Judge Dunbar raised his right hand to calm him down and said, “I have examined the entire case involving the young Liberian girls and as a father I am ashamed that the Liberian judicial system failed to take into account the fact that these women had no reason to lie or make such wanton allegations against anyone.”
After the judge’s statement, Ms. Helen Joe, dressed in a fitting pair of jeans trousers, and matched with a blue blouse that opened in the front, pulled her attachment away from her face and with a grin, lifted herself from her chair.
As if she had rehearsed it, she pulled her back closer to her side and turned swiftly to face Mr. Debone. Four standing fans located various locations in the large office of Judge Dunbar hummed and echoes of vehicles filled the room from a distance.
When she was permitted to speak, Ms. Joe said, “I want to say from the outset that Mr. Debone cannot look at us and say what we are saying is not true.
“Coming from a poor family I jumped on the claim of a better life outside Liberia and we know that Lebanon is one of the countries in the Middle East that could provide educational and working opportunities for anyone who is ambitious.
“How did I come up with what I just said,” she said, and swept her away across the room, “it was Mr. Debone who told me and my friends about that country.”
Jason Doe’s eyes stared at the young woman, as she continued, “It is true that coming different cultures it is true that being business people they are well to do in many aspects than most of our people.
“So when Mr. Debone came up with a suggestion for us to travel to Lebanon to prepare for a better future that we could not get in our country, we thought it was a good idea to run for it. All we wanted were opportunities to be able to get ourselves prepared for the job market and also to educate ourselves so that afterward we would return home and contribute to our country and our family.”
Judge Dunbar listened with his hands folded in front of him. Jason Doe’s face registered a sense of concern and it was clear there was much going on in his mind. He kept folding his hands as if he was about to pounce on somebody who had forced him to put up a defense since the first law of nature is self-preservation.
He imagined the agony and expectation of the young woman, and countless others like her in the Liberian society, whose parents could not afford to get them to realize their dreams. In his mind’s eye, he could see those who seemed to be in advantageous positions making entreaties that suggest hope for such vulnerable group and concluding with the same results that Ms. Joe and others went through. It was then that he heard the distant voice of Ms. Joe, with regret it, “when we got to Beirut, we were instead carried to live with people that we later realized we had to work for to earn our bread.”
Jason Doe suddenly cut in with a question, “Ms. Joe from the reports and even from sources the issue of being used as a sex slave was not fully established and I’m wondering if you can give us an idea of that experience.”
The young woman’s smile was radiant when she said, “In all fairness, we were treated like we were not human beings but the issue of using sex as a weapon against us was subtly done.
“For example, if one of us refuses to do what a madam suggests, the madam will call the boss that took the person to that Madam and on your way to the area that was engaged in housing us, the driver would stop the car on the highway and threatened you with knife for you to succumb to his desire to rape you,” she explained, and pulled a handkerchief from her black bag to mop her face.
“How often did that happen?”
“It happened to several of the girls but not to everyone.”
“Did you have any way of reporting to someone about such a treatment?” the lawyer said.
“There was no one we could turn to,” Ms. Joe said. The lawyer grimaced and began to drum his fingers on the shoulder of the chair he was sitting on, his face hard and his heart throbbing. Then Judge Dunbar’s voice echoed from his seat.
“Gentlemen and ladies,” he said, “this is an unusual case and it is regrettable that the issue of double jeopardy has come in, making it difficult for the case to be resurrected.
“It seems that we are stuck and our hands are tied on the issue of double jeopardy but let me deliberate more on this subject so that our young ladies can understand the situation as it is right now.
“In general, in countries observing the rule of double jeopardy, a person cannot be tried twice for the same crime based on the same conduct,” he said, as the two women and the group listened in rapt attention. “If a person robs a bank, that individual cannot twice be tried for robbery for the same offense. Nor can one be tried for two different crimes based on the same conduct unless the two crimes are defined so as to prohibit the conduct of significantly different kinds.”
Judge Dunbar said as a result “one cannot be tried for both murder and manslaughter for the same killing but can be tried for both murder and robbery if the murder arose out of the robbery.
“The defense of double jeopardy also prevents the state from retrying a person for the same crime after he has been acquitted as it is in this case or can the state voluntarily dismiss a case after the trial has begun in order to start over.”
Broadening the issue, Judge Dunbar said in the United States law, “jeopardy does not attach until the jury is sworn in a jury trial or until the first witness is sworn in a bench trial. Actions before jeopardy attach will not bar a subsequent prosecution.”
Detective Sam Dennis then asked, “What if a judge dismisses a prosecution at a preliminary hearing for lack of evidence?”
Judge Dunbar hesitated and then said, “That determination to dismiss does not bar the government from initiating new charges for the same offense since jeopardy will not have attached at that point which is not in this case. Also under U.S. law, conviction or acquittal in one state or nation does not always bar trial for the same criminal act in another.”
He consoled the women and said perhaps the injustice in the case could give Liberian lawyers a chance to be wary of a similar situation in the future. The meeting ended with Jason Doe saying he would seek another avenue to get justice for his client.