Liberia: Judge Wollor’s Indefinite Suspension

.... Based on an anonymous complaint, he has been stripped of his Judicial function, could forfeit retirement benefits

The Criminal Court ‘D’ Resident Judge Sikajipo A. Wollor, who in recent times has been very vocal about members of the Supreme Court interfering with the functions of subordinate courts, has been stripped of his judicial function and is suspended indefinitely. 

Wollor’s suspension comes after Chief Justice Sie-A-Nyene Yuoh a few day ago stated that the judiciary under her watch would not stray from its primary mission of dispensing justice without fear or favor.

Yuoh, who is the third female chief justice in Liberia’s 175-year history, inherits a judiciary beleaguered by widespread mistrust and public opinion that the judiciary is corrupt and politicized.

Announcing the suspension, the spokesman of the judiciary, Attorney Darryl Ambrose Nmah,in a press release issued on, October 13, quoted Yuoh, as saying “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.

Interestingly, the release did not mention the name of the individual who filed the complaint against Judge Wollor before the Supreme Court.

Instead, the release 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.

Wollor’s suspension comes just a month to the announcement of his retirement, which may likely cause him to forfeit his retirement benefits, as provided by the law.

However, when Judge Wollor was contacted, he expressed shock at the Chief Justice’s decision.

“I cannot believe that the Chief Justice will circulate my suspension without my knowledge to the media, while I am yet to be served with the name of my complainants,” Wollor said. “By good legal practices, I must be served with the complaint and my complainants, even before releasing my suspension to the media."  

According to Wollor, he would not make any further comment until he can be served with his complaint and the identity of his complinanant.

Reflecting on the suspension order against him, Wollor claimed that it might be due to a formal complaint he had earlier filed against several individuals of the Judiciary, including former Chief Justice Francis Korkpor; Judge Roosevelt Z. Willie of Criminal Court 'A'; Judge Ousman F. Feika, assigned judge of Criminal Court 'D'; and Counselor Elizabeth B. Nelson, Court Administrator of the Supreme Court, before the Liberia National Bar Association (LNBA).

According to Wollor, his complaint was about the constant interference of those judicial members on the workings of the Criminal Court 'D', a behavior which he claimed violated the act that created the Criminal Court 'D'.

“I was informed by the LNBA that they have no legal authority to investigate the Chief Justice and they forwarded my complaint back to the Supreme Court,” Wollor explained.

It can be recalled that while delivering his charge at the opening of the August 2022 Term of Courts, Wollor, who Korkpor had assigned to preside over the 5th Judicial Circuit in Grand Cape Mount County, openly accused the former Chief Justice of unilaterally making changes to the law that established Criminal Court ‘D’ — the amended Title 17 of the New Judiciary Law of 1972.

“Justice Korkpor removed the portion that talked about ‘the assigned judge, concurrently with the resident judge thereto, shall have authority to act on all matters coming before the court’,” Wollor said. “[He] made himself a lawmaker by unilaterally changing me, as the Resident Judge, from having anything to do with matters coming before my court. This is a serious matter and a mockery of justice,” Wollor told his audience, who appeared speechless to witness a sitting judge attack the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

Section 24.10, of the law, among other things, states that “the Criminal Court ‘D’ situated in Montserrado County, including the other judicial circuit courts of the Republic, shall always be considered open for adjudication of matters over which they have jurisdiction, and for the purpose of filing any pleading or other papers authorized by Rule of Court or statute, or issuing and returning and final process, and of making and directing all interlocutory motions, order and rulings, wherever they are present within the circuit, the circuit judge assigned to a circuit court during his assignment and the pre-trial chamber session prior thereto, concurrently with the resident judge thereto, shall have authority to act on all matters coming before the court, and if neither is available, then except for the trial of an action and any motion in connection therewith, which may be made during and after such trial or any motion for an order that would dispose if the action, in whole or in part, in any manner, all other matters may be heard by presiding judge of the Circuit Court adjoining the circuit where the action is triable.”

Wollor, while defending his accusation in front of other judges and lawyers, placed specific emphasis on the part of the law that talked about “the circuit judge assigned to a circuit court during his assignment and the pre-trial chamber session prior thereto, concurrently with the resident judge thereto, shall have authority to act on all matters coming before the court.”

Providing reasons for his rare disclosure, Wollor alleged that the Chief Justice mocked him in 2021, when he was cited along with Court Administrator, Cllr. Elizabeth Blamo Nelson, the Resident Judge of Criminal Court ‘A’, Cllr. Roosevelt Z. Willie and the Executive Chairperson of the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC), Cllr. Edwin Martins, then County Attorney of Montserrado County.

At the meeting, Wollor alleged that Korkpor, in the presence of the others, informed him to only handle armed robbery, terrorism and hijacking cases that are already being indicted, and not to be a part of any pre-trial chamber session.

According to Wollor, every judge assigned to the Criminal Court ‘D’ has been implementing the Chief Justice’s 2021 mandate, contrary to the law that created the Criminal Court ‘D’. 

Wollor publicly quoted Korkpor as having said, “When people are arrested for alleged crime of armed robbery, the Resident Judge of Criminal Court ‘D’ should not have any jurisdiction until the armed robbers are indicted. Hence, Judge Willie, in Criminal Court ‘A’ should handle the alleged armed robbers short of indictment.”

Wollor told his audience that when he asked Justice Korkpor, during the meeting, “What is your reliance?” In response Justice Korkpor said, according to Judge Wollor, “I am the Law.”

He added that, from that time, Willie has been usurping his function. “Said statement from Chief Justice Korkpor is not different from those that were in the pithecanthropus, or homoerotic days.”

Besides, Wollor, the Tax Court Clerk Webster B. Wreh, then clerk of Criminal Court ‘D’ has been dismissed.

Nmah added, “Her Honor the Chief Justice has ordered the immediate dismissal of Webster B. Wreh, Clerk of the Tax Court of Montserrado County, following an administrative investigation that found him liable for egregious ethical misconduct unbefitting a staff of the Judiciary.”

According to a judicial staff, the dismissal of Clerk Wreh is contrary to the new Judicial law, which equipped the clerk of the circuit court as a presidential appointee.

“But, it is the Court Administration that issues to us the clerks our appointment letters. We report directly to the  Court Administrator, instead of the President, which contravene the new judicial law,” the anonymous judicial staff said.

Section  3.13 of the New Judicial Act, captioned, “Clerks of Circuit Courts”, states, “The President by and with the advice and consent of the Senate shall appoint a clerk for each Judicial Circuit of the Circuit Courts. Each such clerk, in addition to all other duties required of him by law, shall perform the following duties for the circuit for which he is appointed: (a) To keep a docket of pending cases; (b) To issue all notices requiring the hearing of ex parte matters or other matters which can be disposed of without a jury; (c) To issue all venires of jurors in cases triable by jury; (d) To issue and record all writs and other processes allowed by law, signed with his name as clerk and record returns thereto; (e) To take minutes of all trials of cases held during the quarterly sessions and record all things ordered and done there; (f) To take charge of all records and papers and give copies of them when required by law; (g) To perform for the probate division in his circuit, if any has been established, the duties required to be performed by the clerk of a monthly and probate court until a regularly constituted monthly and probate court has been created for the circuit; (h) To perform for the tax division in his circuit, if any has been established, the duties required to be performed by the clerk of the Tax Court until a regularly constituted tax court has been created for the circuit.[22] § 3.14. Fees of clerks in civil actions. Except where a greater fee is allowed by another statute.”