Liberia: Judge Peabody Faces Suspension over Ethical Breach

Judge Kennedy Peabody

The Judiciary Inquiry Commission (JIC) has recommended a one-year suspension without pay and benefits for Resident Judge Kennedy Peabody for breaching his professional code of ethics.

The complaint against Judge Peabody was filed by Prince Kanneh, a former employee of Lebanese businessman Bassam Jawhary. Kanneh claimed that Judge Peabody illegally withheld 14.5 lots of land that belonged to him.

The investigation conducted by the JIC found that Judge Peabody, while serving as a Stipendiary Magistrate at the Paynesville Magisterial Court, entertained and presided over a case involving his friend, Bassam Jawhary. Simultaneously, Judge Peabody engaged in business transactions on behalf of Jawhary, who was the executor of the 29 lots of land owned by the late Milad R Hage Estate.

According to the JIC, Judge Peabody’s actions were considered unethical, as he violated Judicial Canon #11, which prohibits judges from accepting gifts or favors from litigants or lawyers practicing in their court.

Judicial Canon #11 says: “A judge should not accept any present for favor from litigants or from lawyers practicing before him or her or from others whose interests are likely to be submitted to him for judgment.”

The commission also found that Judge Peabody unlawfully seized the 14.5 lots of land belonging to the Momentum Engineering Group without following the appropriate legal process.

“The action of Judge Peabody gives credence to Edith Hage’s testimony that Peabody used his authority from Jawhary’s gift in applying the Milad Hage Estate Funds,” the JIC said. “The commission sees and interprets the action of the judge as to what the complainant in his layman’s term referred to as threat, suppression, and oppression of his rights.”

As a result of their findings, the JIC has recommended a twelve-month suspension without pay and benefits for Judge Peabody.

“Judge Peabody should be suspended for twelve months without pay and benefits,” the JIC said. “And the ownership of the land should be determined by the court of competent jurisdiction between Prince Kanneh and the Momentum Engineering Group.”

Importantly, the JIC’s recommendation is subject to approval by the Supreme Court. If the recommendation is endorsed, Judge Peabody will have to face the consequences on his own. It will also mean that he will have to defend his actions in court.

Prince Kanneh, in his complaint, alleges that Bassam Jawhary, then the executor of the late Milad R Hage Estate, gifted Judge Peabody 14.5 lots of land as compensation for presiding over a property case between 2011 and 2012 that involved Oumou Sirleaf Hage and Tony Hage.

Kanneh claims that Judge Peabody ruled in favor of Jawhary in that case. However, Kanneh asserted that the property was entrusted to him while Jawhary was out of the country, and Judge Peabody later ordered a re-survey of the property, claiming ownership of the 14.5 lots.

“I was oppressed, suppressed, and threatened as a result of the 14.5 lots of land of the company’s property that my boss, Bassam Jawhary, entrusted in my care while he was out of the bailiwick of the country,” Kanneh claimed.

He said when Judge Peabody knew that Jawhary would not return to Liberia anytime soon, he ordered the re-survey of the property he received from Jawhary as compensation, including the 14.5 lots under the name Momentum Engineering Group.

“I was shocked to see a judge who is believed to be a custodian of human rights violating his rights by converting the company property to his own,” Kanneh alleges.

According to him, at first, he was afraid to institute the complaint against Peabody, but he did so because every lawyer he contacted refused to take the case on grounds that they didn’t want to come into conflict with the judge.

“It was Chief Justice Sie-A-Nyene Yuoh who nominated the offices of the Public Defender to give me a lawyer to represent me,” Kanneh claimed.

On the other hand, Judge Peabody argues that the land was donated to the Momentum Engineering Group, and he became involved in the dispute regarding the sale of the land by Kanneh, who allegedly did not have the legal authority to do so.

Judge Peabody said that he carried out a survey with the participation of all interested parties except for Kanneh, who declined to appear.

Meanwhile, the JIC’s recommendation to have Judge Peabody suspended was signed by several members, including Associate Justice Yamie Quiqui Gbeisaye, who chairs the committee. However, Former Associate Justice George Henries and Sister Mary Laurene Browne did not sign the findings as they did not participate in the investigation hearing.

As this matter goes forward, it will ultimately be up to the Supreme Court to make a final determination based on the JIC's recommendation.