Liberia: Judge Wollor Accuses Chief Justice of Illegal Suspension

Chief Justice Sie -A-Nyene Yuoh (left) in the presence of the President of Weah yesterday claimed the remuneration act of 2019 was passed in violation of the constitution.  

..... Cites wrongful procedure on part of Chief Justice Yuoh

Criminal Court ‘D’ Resident Judge Sikajipo A. Wollor has claimed that his announced suspension without due process is a huge blow to judicial independence and undermines the legitimacy of the 1986 Constitution, and the Judicial Canons governing the legal profession.

“Under our law and canons, judges may be subject to suspension or removal only for reasons of proven incapacity or behavior that renders them unfit to discharge their duties, and only in accordance with an appropriate procedure before an independent body,” Wollor stressed.  “But I was suspended by Chief Justice Sie-A-Nyene G. Yuoh, who single-handedly presided over the proceedings that led to her action, even without any regard to the judicial canons and the constitution.” 

Wollor also threatened to engage in a media campaign, as was done by the Chief Justice if she fails to furnish him with the copy of the complaint that prompted “the abrupt suspension” on October 21.

"I have not received any written complaint letter from the Judiciary Inquiry Commission (JIC), or the Chief Justice on the suspension. But, if I don't get any response from them, I will also go to the press, as she did in my case," Wollor declared in a challenge to the Chief Justice.

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.

The suspension order against Wollor, which was announced in a press release issued on October 13 by the spokesperson of the Judiciary, Attorney Darryl Ambrose Nmah, said: “The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Her Honor Sie-A-Nyene G. Yuoh, has with immediate effect suspended the assignment of His Honor Sikajipo A. Wollor from presiding over the 5th Judicial Circuit of Grand Cape Mount County.”

According to the release, the decision of the Chief Justice is predicated upon a complaint of alleged ethical misconduct of the judge, "which is of grave magnitude." The release did not mention the name of the individual who filed the complaint against Judge Wollor before the Supreme Court.

It said, “the complaint has been forwarded to the Judicial Inquiry Commission (JIC) for a full investigation in which Judge Sikajipo A. Wollor remains suspended from all judicial functions.”

According to Wollor, the action implored by Yuoh is strange to him, because he has won several complaints filed against him before former Chief Justice Francis Korkpor, who later forwarded those complaints to the JIC for investigation. 

"The first complaint was filed by the Executive Chairperson of the Liberia Anti-Corruption (LACC), Cllr Edwin Martin, former County Attorney for Montserrado County, and the second was filed by the US-sanctioned former Solicitor General Sayma Syrennius Cephus. And, their complaints were dismissed, by then JIC was chaired by Associate Justices Jamesetta Howard Wolokollie and Joseph Nagbe," Wollor claimed.

"Why will Yuoh choose to not follow the procedure outlined by the JIC in the alleged investigation of judges of unethical breached?" Wollor wondered.

Article 20 (a) of the 1986 constitution states; “No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, security of the person, property, privilege or any other right except as the outcome of a hearing judgment consistent with the provisions laid down in this Constitution and in accordance with due process of law. Justice shall be done without sale, denial or delay; and in all cases not arising in courts not of record, under courts-martial and upon impeachment, the parties shall have the right to trial by jury.”

Article 71 of the Constitution provides that judges can be removed only upon impeachment and conviction by the legislature for proven misconduct, bribery, gross breach of duty, inability to perform, or conviction of an infamous crime.