.... To what avail? Defense counsel asks
The Ministry of Justice has filed a bill of information to the Monrovia City Court to seek information about the political leader of the Alternative National Congress, Alexander Cummings, trip to the US.
The Ministry's action, according to Solicitor-General Cllr. Sayma Syrenius Cephus is based on the fact that Cummings is yet to provide the court photocopies of his necessary travel document including flight ticket if any, the date of departure to the United States and date of return, and a photocopy of his current Liberian passport "with an American visa inside."
The Justice Ministry's release quoting the Bill of Information filed by the State lawyers, says these were the conditions agreed upon for which the Ministry of Justice had interposed no objection to the lifting of the Alternative Summary Proceedings Order issued by His Honor Roosevelt Z. Willie, restraining, inhibiting and prohibiting Co-Defendant Alexander B. Cummings from traveling out of Liberia pending the hearing of the Summary proceedings petition filed by the Ministry of Justice.
The release further that the Ministry of Justice was quite circumspect and did not raise any objection because co-defendant Cummings had two separate and distinct options, and that is, he was required to produce these documents either before or after his travel, and based on this, the Ministry of Justice had selected the last option which instructed that he would produce the selfsame documents upon his return to the country.
In response to the above-referenced publication reportedly emanating from the Solicitor General of the Republic of Liberia, Heritage Partners and Associates, Inc., (HPA), as legal counsels for Mr. Alexander B. Cummings, has issued a statement to “clarify the issues in order to set the records straight.”
In their response to the Ministry of Justice, Cummings’ lawyers, led by Cllr. Abrahim B. Sillah, Sr., Managing Partner of Heritage Partners & Associates,argues that Liberian law provides a defendant in criminal proceedings the right of brief voluntary absence, which may be exercised without any specified condition.
Cummings’ lawyers noted that the law and facts are clear in this matter and that their client is not obliged to provide information post-travel, and will not join in any argument without a legal basis.
“The fact of the matter is that co-defendant Alexander Cummings invoked his right and applied to the court for brief voluntary absence and the court granted the application based on the law against the Solicitor General’s frivolous resistance,” Cllr. Sillah said. “It is therefore very astonishing that the Solicitor General would file a bill of information requesting the same pieces of information provided to him and requesting additional information that was not included in his resistance before Magistrate Jallah and/or in his application seeking a review of Magistrate Jallah’s ruling.
“The bill of information is frivolous because the matter is moot; it is moot for reason that Mr. Cummings traveled to the United States of America (USA) on the orders of the court, and returned to the country in keeping with the court's order,” Cllr. Sillah added. “What then is the necessity of producing ‘a photocopy of his current Liberian passport with an American visa inside’? How does ‘a photocopy of his current Liberian passport with an American visa inside’ impact or affect the outcome of the ongoing trial, or determine his guilt or innocence? What is the relevance of this information?”
According to Cummings’ lawyers, the only object of the Solicitor General's press release “is to cover up his shameful admission that he and the prosecution team committed prosecutorial misconduct by intentionally omitting material pieces of exculpatory evidence from the documents submitted to the Court and subsequently presented to the defense team on discovery.
“The court’s records on March 30, are evidence of this embarrassing admission, and in order to whitewash the situation, or put up a brave face on such a shameful experience, the Solicitor General had to resort to the publication of an empty press release, that public attention will not focus on the misconduct, but a photocopy of Mr. Cummings’ passport withan American visa inside,” Cllr.Sillah noted.
The state lawyers’ bill of information comes a day after Attorney Adolphus Karnuah, of the state, admitted to the Monrovia City Court, where the ANC leaders and others are being tried with multiple offenses, that they omitted several portions of the social media exchanges and text message shreds of evidence that were confirmed by Magistrate Jomah Jallah.
Atty. Karnuah's confession comes after days of intense investigation by Magistrate Jallah, about the complaint filed by lawyers representing Alexander Cummings, accusing the Solicitor General, of extracting from his evidence, the exchanges of social media text messages between Cummings and other leaders of the CPP in the National Advisory Council chatroom.
“We bring along with us the corrected version, and we want the court to discard the one version that had the July 2 and 19 omitted,” Karnuah pleaded with the court. “We want the corrected version to be confirmed and to find a cogent part in the proceedings. And, the correction or photocopy of the conversation [from between] July 2 and 19, should be given to the defense to have them inserted into the prosecution's documentary evidence in the proceeding.”
Karnuah also did not blame any single prosecutor, including the accused, Cllr. Cephus, for their unexpected error.
The action by Cephus and his team of prosecutors to omit evidence violates Rule 7 of the Rules of Moral and Ethical Conduct governing the behavior of lawyers in Liberia. The rule forbids lawyers from suppressing and secreting information and evidence capable of proving the innocence of a defendant. Rule 7 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.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Justice says now that co-defendant Cummings has safely traveled out of the country and has peacefully returned, he must do the right thing by producing these documents including but not limited to the photocopy of his current Liberian passport with an American "visa inside to satisfy two basic fundamental conditions, namely (1) to prove to the court that indeed he has traveled to the United States to see his ailing mother, and thereby comply with the mandate of Judge Willie; and (2) finally to allay the suspicions of the Ministry of Justice and other information spread in the public domain that does not travel to the United States as he had earlier indicated in his sworn submission."
The Justice Ministry release says while it seems tempted to express remorse of conscience for the ailment of defendant Cummings’ 92 years old mother, believed to be a senior citizen of this Republic, the Ministry of Justice is however unconvinced that defendant Cummings actually traveled to the United States and therefore calls upon him to gather the moral fortitude by producing to the court all of the documents referenced, including but not limited to his current Liberian passport with an American visa inside.
The release noted that the Ministry of Justice shall not and will not be distracted from making these demands and hereby advises defendant Cummings to understand that the production of these documents including but not limited to the photocopy of his current Liberian passport with a US visa inside, before or after his travel out of the country, was a key condition upon which the prosecution had interposed no objection to his travel request.
Editor note: This story has been updated with Cummings lawyers response.