CDC Former Rep. Candidate Sues FrontPage Africa for US$1.8M Damages

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The lawsuit, dated April 4, was filed by Henry A.K. Morgan (left) and Moses T. Konah, against FrontPage Africa, whose managing editor Rodney Sieh (right) is out of the country

Several employees of the FrontPage Africa Newspaper were early yesterday rounded-up by both officers of the Liberia National Police (LNP) and constables from the Civil Law Court of the Temple of Justice in connection to a US$1,850,000 ‘Damages for Wrong by Attachment’ lawsuit filed by two of the three administrators of the Intestate Estate of the late Lawrence A. Morgan.

The lawsuit, dated April 4, was filed by Henry A.K. Morgan and Moses T. Konah, seeking an amount of US$500,000 as special damages, US$1,000,000 representing general damages and US$350,000 as punitive damages against the paper, and also named Henry V.L. Morgan, Edward A. Morgan and Gbein Morgan as collaborators.

One of the parties to the lawsuit, Henry A.K. Morgan, contested the 2011 elections as representative aspirant in District 2, Bomi County, on the ticket of the Congress for Democratic Change. The suit was filed by the Weah and Associates Law Firm on behalf of the plaintiffs.

A lawsuit by attachment is a legal process of seizing property to ensure satisfaction of a judgment. The document by which a court orders such a seizure may be called a writ of attachment or an order of attachment.

Originally, the main purpose of attachment was to coerce a defendant into appearing in court and answering the plaintiff’s claim.

The court order pressured the sheriff to take the defendant’s property into custody, depriving the individual of the right to use or sell it. If the defendant obstinately refuses to appear, the property could be sold by the court to pay off any monetary judgment entered against him or her.

The latest civil actions for damages against the newspaper comes days after Monrovia City Mayor, a staunch (loyal) member of the governing Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) and also Youth League chair, Jefferson Koijee lambasted Rodney D. Sieh, managing editor of the FrontPage Africa for “not being in the interest of the government.”

Koijee accused Frontpage of engaging in “unprofessional attacks on the presidency and the denigration of initiatives by the government, including negotiations of about US$536 million needed for a proposed coastal highway, among others.”

Mr. Koijee said it was unfortunate for Mr. Sieh to present himself as a champion of the cause, adding, “Do not use the media to launch your selfish, cruel agenda, because Liberia needs to be developed and this is the best moment.”

Recently, Sieh published a series of investigative stories on activities of the government of President George Weah.

However, at yesterday’s deliberation, Cllr. Pearl Brown Bull, who represented the FrontPage Newspaper, told journalists that the government was not behind the lawsuit against the newspaper, adding, “there is no government manipulation in the lawsuit, rather two private individuals that filed the action of damages for wrong by attachment against the newspaper and several of its employees,” Cllr. Bull maintained.

Cllr. Bull later, on her own recognizance (without filing a bond) secured the release of those employees that were arrested. Although Mr. Sieh was not among the arrested staff members, his name was mentioned in the lawsuit as one of several defendants.

The writ that brought the defendants under the jurisdiction of the court, which copy is in possession of the Daily Observer reads, “You are hereby commanded to place an attachment on the above mentioned respondents/defendant; property (ies), including vehicle(ies), equipment and any other assets situated and lying and being in Montserrado County, and elsewhere in the country, owned by the Respondent(s)/ Defendant(s)of the above named captioned case for the respondent(s)/ Defendant(s) to satisfy the plaintiff’s request of US$350,000 and have same safely impounded, kept and/or locked.”

The suit also ordered that  “the Sheriff of this Court will further proceed to the premises of the respondent(s)/Defendant(s) and cause the properties, personal or real to be attached consistent with law and take possession and custody of same until otherwise ordered by this Court.”

The complainants alleged that Henry V.L. Morgan, Edward A. Morgan and Gbein Morgan, underwrote the cost of the defamatory publications, which was published by the newspaper on Thursday, March 8; Monday, March 12; and Friday, March 16, 2018 editions respectively.

The defamatory publication, the lawsuit argued, reads, “the persons appearing here, Mr. Kopeyor Adamah Seh, also known as  Henry A.K. Morgan, Anthony C. Morgan  and Moses T. Konah are representing themselves as administrators of the estate of Lawrence A. Morgan.”

The announcement further said, “Please be aware that these individuals are not authorized to lease, sell, collect rents or transact any other business on behalf of the Estate of Lawrence Morgan on the Estate of Christine Morgan-Richards.”

They also claimed that FrontPage Africa, without any regard to her ethics and moral conduct, elected to publish such defamatory announcement against the plaintiff on those days.

Even though other newspapers published similar announcements, according to the suit, the plaintiffs on several occasions asked the FrontPage Africa newspaper alone to retract said announcement, which she refused, failed and neglected since then, up to and including the filing of their complaint.

“The publications are malicious, libel calculated to expose the plaintiffs, to hared, contempt or public ridicule within their communities, among peers and family members,” the document claimed.

Moreover, the suit alleges that the publication had subjected the plaintiffs to criminal sanction, because, under the law, practice and procedure within this jurisdiction to impersonate same is first degree misdemeanor which is a crime.

In quick reaction, Lennart Dodoo, FrontPage Africa desk editor, denied the allegation that they have refused to write an erratum to the publication.

“We have done justice to the story by publishing the plaintiff’s version of it, but they chose to bring the lawsuit against the newspaper anyway,” Dodoo said.

He argued that there were several newspapers, among them FrontPage Africa, that published the announcement, wondering, “Why would the plaintiffs single-out our newspaper for the legal action?”

According to Dodoo, the lawsuit against the newspaper was masterminded by someone else instead of the plaintiffs.

Authors

16 COMMENTS

  1. Does a “writ of attachment” encompass staff or personnel of an entity? If not, then why were the staff of the FPA arrested? That was abuse of power to me. Also, if this “writ of attachment” can be applied at the onset of a case, then one wonders why plaintiffs haven’t been using it in every debt action in Liberia? Something tells me this is another of those misapplication of the law scenario by this judge again. Hopefully FPA too, can counter sue for libel, or loss of wages by the paper. And how come all these abuse of the law instances are emerging with the coming of this new administration? Are these signs of the times to come? Hopefully not!

  2. I’m confused on how the court is administering the law; or perhaps I’m just naive of Liberian laws. First, did someone submit the announcement to the paper for publication as a public announcement? If so, how is the FPA accountable no? Second, if the plaintiffs believe a public disclosure of that announcement injures them, how does excluding the other papers from the suit prove their claims? If FPA had not published the announcement (I’m assuming here), would the public response to the plaintiffs be different than what they claim FPA’s publication subject them to? If so, what evidence can they provide to prove such? For Liberian legal experts, are there any precedent for how the court handled this complaint?

  3. People Needs to be careful about what they say and do. The media is a place of reliability of fact and not a place of conspiracy.

  4. A few questions: did the FPA refuse to appear before it to answer to charges of wrongdoing in any form since this publication came out? Has the court handed down a judgement against the FPA? Why if not, hasn’t FPA responded to the court?

    • From a document I read, I believed it stated that FPA received a summon to appear in court to answer to the charges on April 15. In order words, FPA had not violated any court order. Summons are what the respondents (defending party) received notifying them of a suit against them and they are instructed to appear on the date in the summon to answer to the charges and make any opposing claim. If the document I read is correct, why was the action taken against FPA? Also, are the employees who were arrested managing owners/partners of the Paper? If not, why were they arrested? What law bring them in scope as party to the case against the Paper? Does Judges have authority to order arrest of individuals not subject to a case? If not, and if the Judge order was not to include the employees, why did the Sheriffs arrest these individuals? The whole incident is troubling and should be worrisome about judicial code of conduct? Again, I’ll add a disclaimer; I am not abreast in Liberian laws. My comments are purely based on how I would expect a case to proceed, let say in the U.S or England.

  5. Our judicial system needs to be thoroughly put under scrutiny. I am looking at deceit and lies to be harming our legal system. This action by a judge, can endanger the fabric of any Democratic Institution. An abitrar use of the law can make the people loose confidence in its judiciary.

  6. Let’s be realistic. Freedom of speech is very important for every Civilized society.

    If we think that, a person or an entity have spoken wrongly against us, we need not to over react by means of power abuse.

  7. The amount of money sued for by the complainant is ridiculous; it goes without saying that such blatant financial overreach stinks of criminalizing and silencing journalists. That is one of the reasons why PUL must get its act straight. This time, really get it together by being serious about lobbying the Legislature for a bill to revise our ancient anti-expression laws, or, better still, find a legislator to sponsor a bill revising the libel and defamation laws to reflect best practices in the US, whose constitution and common laws were copied by various Liberian framers.

    Undeniably, an adversarial relationship between the press and government doesn’t help a contentiously polarized country where millions of people undergo pervasive poverty. Which would suggest to me that those on both sides of the press-regime fence rooting for a showdown have motivations more meaningful on their value scales than Mama Liberia; and, most likely they are as follows: Partisanship, Ego, Money, Power.

    The question then becomes what does the Country-Congua suffering majority benefit when few members of the mass media jump at every chance to play the victimhood card for ego and money, or few functionaries overdo flattery in the cause of partisanship and power? Nothing, except tension and cascading crises that could suck energy out of any volition to do right by majority of marginalized members of a poor country that still manages to produce some millionaires and multi-millionaires. Cut the “shithole” crap, fellows; can you?

  8. Whiners. How were they harmed? This nonsense will put Liberia into another turbulent time. Crabs in a bucket climbing their way over the other crabs. Shame.

  9. POOR, POOR, POOR Liberia!

    After 12 years of a selfish and corrupt government led by Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf…
    We now have 6 years of STUPID PEOPLE GOVERNMENT that is being led by George Manneh Weah (Oppong).

    The real sad story is, There Are Always, well-educated people in the government who just there to steal and mislead the leadership.

  10. What I see, to paraphrase what a former U.S Secretary of Defense once said, is “you have a few well informed, but ill intentioned leading the well intentioned but ill informed majority. I am baffled at the vitriol, hate, assumptions and lack of judicious thoughts in some of the comments I’ve read, but not surprised as the nation is still young in terms of its experience in what press freedom means, role of government officials and their accountability. I still read in these comments, expressions of pain, despair, a need for revenge that can only be remedied by implementing the TRC resolutions, be it where the verdict falls.

    • The tone to your concerns (vitriol, hate, assumptions, etc., etc.) is often set by the leader(ship) of the country. So why don’t you redirect your beef at that base and leave us alone? After all we just happen to be products of the environment we find ourselves in and responding to prevailing circumstances as the case may be. Makes sense?

      • To Hilary. I don’t understand your comments. Each Liberian must take responsibility in holding their elected officials accountable. Public officials are elected or appointed to serve and as such are accountable to answering questions on unanswered actions taken by them. Unless someone can present a factual predicate that a journalist had malicious intent (even that’s hard to legally prove. Heresy, and assumptions about a journalist intent are not admissible facts) the press should be allowed to raise questions and bring to the public square opinions that challenges public officials decisions that impact any and/or all sectors of the citizenry. To quote, “Democracy dies in silence”. No public official is above the law or have devine and absolute answer to resolving all issues of the nation. The media allows for constructive debate, in spite of the opposing positions on issues. I hope this is helpful.

  11. This case seems to be an abuse of power by the court. Who’s is the judge in this case and why other papers weren’t asked to retract their story

  12. To Wilbert’s comments. It appears so, but not fully abreast of Liberian laws on libel, defamation and burden of proof and administrative procedures of the court in caring out its orders, I will hold back on whether the judge follows what the written authority is or abused of power. Though, I must admit, the order and the action against defendants even before a hearings appears the court has already made a decision, without any preponderance of evidence presented and litigated.

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