Liberia: Supreme Court Subjects Cllr. Gongloe, Others to Ethical Probe

Cllr. Tiawan S. Gongloe  


— Regarding their representation of Amos Brosius in the  Ducor Petroleum case, which led to Judge Eva Mappy Morgan of the Commercial Court being accused of unethical behavior.

The Supreme Court of Liberia has asked its Grievance and Ethics Committee to investigate Cllr. Tiawan Gongloe and several other lawyers for alleged unprofessional and unethical misconduct.

Gongloe, Viama Blama, Nyanati Tuan, Wellington Bedell, and Monthly and Probate Court Judge Nicolar Edwards are the subjects of the investigation, which would focus on their role in the handling of the Ducor Petroleum Incorporated case.

Tuan is the Deputy Minister for Codification, at the Ministry of Justice (MoJ). He and the others were once lawyers for Amos Brosius in the Ducor Petroleum case. The case ended with a complaint, in which Judge Eva Mappy Morgan of the Commercial Court was accused of unethical behavior.

Brosius and his lawyers had complained that Morgan's decision to lift the stay order on the Ducor Petroleum escrow account, without their knowledge or approval was improper on grounds that the request came from the lawyer of the  Monrovia Oil Trading Company, Cllr. T. Negbalee Warner. 

The Judicial Inquiry CommissionIn, last year ruled that  Brosius and his lawyers' claim was valid –  asking the Supreme Court to suspend the Chief Judge of the Commercial Court for a year without pay and benefits for improperly, as well as subjecting Warner to an unprofessional and unethical probe.

However, the Court on September 26, overturned the Commission ruling, saying Mappy Morgan's decision to lift the stay order on the US$3.3 million escrow while the case was being litigated was not in violation of the Judicial Canons, status, or the Act that established the Commercial Court of Liberia – absolving the judge of the Commission finding.

The Court then exonerated Warner but subjected Brosius’ lawyers to a probe for unethical behavior, particularly regarding the complaint against Morgan, whom the Court has vindicated. Gongloe and his colleagues have denied any knowledge of Warner’s letter as part of the Judiciary Inquiry Commission's inquiry into Brosius’ complaint. 

This was contrary to Morgan’s claim that she communicated with Brousis’ lawyers, via mobile phone, before lifting the stay order on Ducor Petroleum’s bank account. In her testimony before the Commission in 2020, the Judge claimed that the communication qualified as a standard notice of assignment.

Judge Mappy’s claim was then backed by the majority of justices of the Supreme Court, who ruled that all the communications constituted the records of the case.

“It is the holding of this court that the Chief Judge, Eva Mappy Morgan, did not transgress the Judicial Canons, statute or the Act that created the Commercial Court of Liberia, hence should not be reprimanded as recommended by the Judiciary Inquiry Commission,” the Court said in the ruling signed by Chief Justice  Sie-A-Nyene Yuoh and Associate Justices Joseph Nagbe, and Jamesetta Howard -Wolokollie.

“The decision to establish an escrow account, which met the approval of the parties, was done through communication by one of the lawyers of the MOTC, not through a regular judicial process, which may require the exchanges of pleadings. Whatever the case, all the communication constitutes the certified records in this case.”

The justices noted that they could not support the Commission’s categorization of Warner’s communication to the judge as private communication.  However, the Court said that the “communication takes the weight of an application praying that Court, to grant relief to his client.” 

“This cannot be the ground to call Warner to answer to unprofessional and unethical misconduct. Therefore, it is recommended that lawyers for the complainant (Brosius) be sent to the Grievance and Ethics Committee of the Supreme Court to explain their roles regarding the representation of their client.”

The Court ruling that set Morgan free came as a result of Yuoh having reversed her earlier vote on the matter, which found the judge guilty of the Commission’s finding. 

Yuoh, while serving as Associate Justice, voted last year along with former Chief Justice Francis Korkpor to endorse the Commission’s report. However, Justices Nagbe and Howard-Wolokollie voted against the Commission’s finding –  creating a tied vote as a result of Associate Justice Yussif D. Kabas’s abstention since he chaired the Commission whose findings Morgan challenged at the Supreme Court. The lone dissenting opinion in the case was given by Korkpor –  a day before his retirement from the Supreme Court Bench on Sept. 26.