Liberia: ‘LNBA Should Probe Cllrs Cephus, Sherman’ 

Counselors Varney Sherman, left and Saymah Syrenius Cephus  

— In light of sanctions

Cllr. Jonathan T. Massaquoi has written to the President of the Liberian National Bar Association (LNBA), Sylvester D. Rennie, expressing concern over the continued refusal of the association to launch an investigation of two of its senior members, Counselors Harry Varney Gboto-Nambi Sherman and Saymah Syrenius Cephus.

Sherman is the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, while Cephus recently served as Solicitor General and Chief Prosecutor to the administration of President George Weah. 

Cephus and Sherman had been sanctioned by the United States Department of the Treasury’s Office of the Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) as perpetrators of bribery and corruption.   These actions were taken pursuant to Executive Order (EO) 13818, which builds upon and implements the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, and targets perpetrators of corruption and serious human rights abuse.

However, in Massaquoi’s letter, dated September 14, the senior Supreme Court lawyer argued that these allegations are not only damning but violate several provisions of the moral and professional ethics and must not be left uninvestigated by the Bar, as an integrity institution.

Rule one of the Code of Moral and Professional Ethics of the LNBA says: “It shall be unprofessional for any lawyer to advise, initiate, or otherwise participate directly or indirectly in any act that tends to undermine or impugn the authority, dignity, integrity of the courts or judges, thereby hindering the effective administration of justice.

Rule 2 states: “It is unprofessional and highly criminal for a lawyer in a case to converse privately with the judge presiding in connection with the case either on trial or pending trial, or in any way communicate with the judge in an attempt to unduly influence his judgment, and for the judge himself to allow or encourage such conversation or receive a perquisite for his judicial duties or for him to assume an attitude as would unreasonably delay the hearing of the case in the hope of receiving perquisite directly or indirectly for his judicial service.”

The sanction claimed that Cephus, as solicitor general, developed close relationships with suspects of criminal investigations and reportedly received bribes from individuals in exchange for having their cases dropped and facilitating money laundering; that he shields money launderers and helps clear them through the court system, and has intimidated other prosecutors in an attempt to quash investigations.

In his letter,  Massaquoi reminds Rennie that these allegations are not only criminal in nature but a flagrant violation of the Codes for Moral and Ethical Conduct of Lawyers and cannot be ignored by the August Body of the Bar.

“Cephus’ alleged acts violate a litany of codes,” the letter added.

Massaquoi went on to cite another Rule that states: “The primary duty of the lawyer engaged in public prosecution is not to convict, but to see that justice is done. The suppression of facts or the secreting of witnesses capable of establishing the innocence of the accused is highly reprehensible and utterly unprofessional.”

For Sherman, he was accused of habitually bribing judges and others in the courts, and the Ministry of Justice and also facilitated payments to Liberian politicians to support the impeachment of a judge who has ruled against him.

Sherman, like Cephus, has denied these allegations. Despite their respective denials, Massaquoi noted, “it is an incontestable fact that these allegations adversely affect the character and conduct of these two lawyers and must not be ignored.”

“We must remember that the legal profession is a fraternity to which all lawyers are members, therefore when such allegation that is so damning is raised against two of our colleagues, we must muster the spirit of brotherhood to entreat them to come forward and clear their names, so as not to cast aspersion on our esteemed profession,” Massaquoi’s letter said.

According to Massaquoi, such allegations, designations, and subsequent sanctions, in his mind do not only affect the individuals but have the potential and propensity to adversely impact the repetition and integrity of the Judiciary and members of the legal profession individually, as well as collectively.

“Let me hasten to add that the Bar is held on a very high moral pedestal and the importance of the Bar to the Liberian State is immeasurable. Unlike many other professional institutions created by Articles of Incorporation, the Bar was established by an Act of the National Legislature of Liberia and has an indispensable role in our society,” the letter added.

Massaquoi also reminded Rennie that the Bar is under a moral obligation to protect the legal profession by promoting the administration of justice, serving as an advocate for the Judiciary., and providing legal direction and insight for the vast majority of the Liberian people, and the government.

“One may dare to ask, what authority does the Bar have to launch an investigation, and who is the complainant?” Massaquoi wondered.

In response, he quoted the Supreme Court of Liberia 2021 opinion in the case A. Ndubuisi Nwabudike which, according to Massaquoi, provides, “that the Grievance and Ethics Committee of the Bar may, on its own motion and without a formal complaint, investigate any circumstances reflecting on the character or conduct of a practicing lawyer, or it may undertake such an investigation on the direction of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.”