Liberia: Chief Justice Triggers Article 67 to Appoint Ad Hoc Justice

Chief Justice Francis Korkpo.    

--- In Judge Morgan's Case

President George Weah, in keeping with Article 67 of the 1986 Constitution of the Republic of Liberia, is expected to shortly appoint an Ad-hoc judge to break the tie that will decide whether to uphold the recommendation of the Judiciary Inquiry Commission’s (JIC) one-year suspension without pay and benefits against Judge Eva Mappy Morgan.

The invocation of this article stems from communication by Chief Justice Francis Korkpor to President Weah, informing the president of the lack of quorum of justices of the Supreme Court available to decide the JIC’s recommendation against Judge Morgan, according to a source. 

“The Supreme Court shall comprise one Chief Justice and four Associate Justices, a majority of whom shall be deemed competent to transact the business of the Court,” Article 67 says, concerning the composition of the full bench.  And with regard to the issue at hand, the article continues: “If a quorum is not obtained to enable the Court to hear any case, a circuit judge in the order of seniority shall sit in as an ad hoc justice of the Supreme Court.”

Meanwhile, it is not clear whether President Weah will appoint the Ad-hoc Justice before the September retirement date set for Chief Justice Francis Korkpor to vacate the Supreme Court bench.

The source said, the justices voted 2-2 with one of the justices, Associate Justice Yussif Kaba, not voting since he chaired the JIC at the time the body recommended the suspension of Judah Morgan. 

Thereafter, he was compelled by the law to recuse himself from further voting in the matter, which he did, the source said.  The source further said, Chief Justice Francis Korkpor and Associate Justice Sie-A-Nyene G.Yuoh voted in favor, and Associate Justices Jamesetta Wolokollie and Joseph Nagbe were against. 

The punishment recommendation against Judge Morgan was necessitated when the JIC’s findings said that the judge unilaterally unfroze a contentious escrow account belonging to the Ducor Petroleum Incorporated that was housed at the Liberia Bank for Development and Investment (LBDI), which account should have been unfrozen, only pending the outcome of the lawsuit for accounting between a Liberian businessman Amos Brosius and his partner the Monrovia Oil Trading Corporation (MOTC), owned by Charles Carron, a Belgian national.

But the JIC claimed that without the conclusion of the case nor the consent of Brosius, Judge Morgan, upon communication from the Heritage and Partners Law Firm jointly owned by Counselors Negbalee Warner and Abrahim Sillah, the judge unfroze the escrow account and allowed the lawyers of MOTC to withdraw the amount of US$3.3 million from the disputed Ducor Petroleum's account.

It is the decision for which the justices are finding it difficult to obtain a quorum, for almost a year, despite Judge Morgan’s admittance that she acted based upon the letter of Counselors Warner and Sillah, during her testimony before the JIC, which, according to senior lawyers, is the first time in many years to witness the justices divided over a recommendation by the JIC.