Liberia: ‘When Justice Is Done, It Brings Joy to the Righteous’

US Ambassador Michael A. McCarthy

— US Ambassador to Liberia’s Supreme Court Justices

US Ambassador Michael A. McCarthy has suggested to Liberian Supreme Court Justices that while making determinations of cases that would appear before the court, they should consider them appropriately and render correct verdicts in the interest of justice.

Ambassador McCarthy’s utterances come as the Supreme Court prepares to open on Monday, October 10, under a new Chief Justice, Sie-A-Nyene Yuoh, who recently replaced Chief Justice Francis Korkpor, who retired at the age of 70.

“I know that most justices in Liberia are aware about the scriptures that have much to say about justice, for instance, Proverbs chapter 21:15, and chapter 24:24 and 25,” McCarthy said in remarks at the retirement ceremony of Justice Korkpor. 

This proverb is about “justice” and what it produces in the lives of different people. “Justice” is the translation for a legal Hebrew term of handling a case appropriately and rendering a correct verdict.

When that happens, there is “joy to the righteous.” Good people appreciate the process — even the verdict — if they believe it was done appropriately, according to a Bible scholar.

McCarthy openly went on to quote the two proverbs, 21:15, 24:24 and 25,

Proverbs chapter 21:15 says: “When justice is done, it brings joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers.” But chapter 24:24-25 says: “Whoever says to the guilty, ‘You are innocent,’ will be cursed by the people and denounced by the nations.”

Ambassador McCarthy did not explain whether or not the Liberian Supreme Court justices were rendering justice, as quoted in the Book of Proverbs.

However, the question remains unanswered whether Justice Yuoh’s Bench would listen to Ambassador McCarthy’s scriptural advice.

McCarthy informed the justices that the Supreme Court, which is the highest court in the country, and the chief justice, which is the most important position in the Judiciary Branch of the government, are some of “those most responsible for maintaining a culture of justice and preserving the rule of law. So, there is enormous responsibility, authority and the constant pressure that comes with it, makes it a very difficult position to hold.”

He added, “And that is one more reason to properly watch movements like this when a torch is cast from one chief justice to the next.”

Commending former Chief Justice Korkpor, Ambassador McCarthy said, “It is not small thing that for the entire decade Chief Justice Korkpor has overseen justices in Liberia with an awesome responsibility of brining joy to the righteous and terror to the evil doers.

McCarthy observed that Liberia had had an eventful decade under the able watch of Chief Justice Korkpor, “with two presidents, several elections, the Ebola crisis, UNMIL’s departure, and the COVID pandemic, just to name a few. Your service during this emotional time speaks to your commitment to this court and your country, and that is something worth applauding.”

McCarthy disclosed that the U.S. government, since 2005, has spent more than US$150 million in Liberia.

“We have committed more than US$150 million to support civilian security, the justice sector, and the Ministry of Justice (MoJ). Our support is to increase the capacity of the civilian security agency, the MoJ, to maintain peace and stability. We would remember our partnership with the Judiciary under Chief Justice Korkpor through the support of the James A.A. Pierre Judicial Institute for the training of magistrates under the USAID-Legal Professional and Anti-Corruption Program (LPAC).

McCarthy said that, through the partnership, the judiciary has managed to deploy several trained magistrates across the country, to enhance the rule of law and access to justice.

“Every end has a beginning, and an end also has a beginning.”

It can be recalled that Chief Justice Yuoh, prior to her ascendancy, was behind the lifting of a guilty verdict delivered against  Judge Eva Mappy Morgan of the Commercial Court, who was found liable for unethical behavior.

The court’s decision came nearly two years after the Commission, which is charged with the exclusive power to investigate complaints against judges of courts of record and non-record, had ruled that Judge Mappy Morgan violated some provision of the Judicial Canons while presiding over the Ducor Petroleum case.

The Commission had asked the Supreme Court to suspend the Chief Judge of the Commercial Court for a year without pay and benefits for improperly lifting a stay order on the escrow account of Ducor Petroleum, which was then hosted at the Liberia Bank for Development and Investment (LBDI) without the consent of one of the parties to the case.

Majority opinion

But the Court, in a majority opinion, ruled that the action of Judge Mappy Morgan to withdraw 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 finding of the Commission.

“It is the holding of this court that the Chief Judge Eva Mappy Morgan, did not transgress the Judicial Canons, stature 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 a 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 Court ruling that set Judge Mappy Morgan free came as a result of Justice Yuoh’s reversing 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 from voting, since he chaired the Commission whose findings Mappy Morgan was challenging at the Supreme Court.

And while President George Weah was still looking into Korkpor request for an Ad Hoc Justice, the Court issued a surprise supreme ruling on Sept. 26, with Yuoh as the newly Confirmed Chief Justice, reversing her vote to strike down the Commission’s report — vindicating Judge Mappy Morgan.

The judgment was issued a day ahead of Korkpor’s retirement as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court — and it is not clear what led to Yuoh’s eventual change of mind.