Chief Justice Francis Korkpor, bemoaning the action of judicial staffer Archie Ponpon to self-immolate over threats of arrest and prosecution, has described the fiery incident as ‘shocking and surprising.’
According to the Chief Justice, he was in total shock and disbelief upon hearing that Ponpon immolated himself at the steps of the Temple of Justice, which hosts the offices of the Justices of the Supreme Court.
“It shocked me to see a Liberian Citizen set himself ablaze. This is the first time to see such a thing. There is no reason for people to always come to the court to protest at one point to accuse me of planning to kill them,” Korkpor said. “For what reason? I hope this will remain with us as we look forward to a better working relationship in this November term of court.”
Chief Justice Korkpor further added during the opening of the November Term of the Criminal Courts for Montserrado County that he witnessed the incident via social media video as he was attending a program for the commissioning of newly appointed judges.
The Chief Justice explained that after seeing the video, he immediately dispatched the judiciary’s personnel director to the John F. Kennedy Medical Center to meet Ponpon, “but the personnel director was prevented from entering the premises of the [JFK].”
However, the Chief Justice failed to state the reason why the personal director of the Judiciary was denied entry and how much effort he has exerted since then to see Ponpon.
Of late, Ponpon had led Judicial Workers to protest against the delay on the part of the Judiciary to pay staffers their Liberian dollar salary components. As a result, Ponpon and his co-workers accused the judiciary of owing them 12 months, and even referred to the Chief Justice as “criminals and rogues”.
During an earlier protest, Ponpon laid flat under the Chief Justice’s official vehicle, so that it would not be able to move without rolling over him. During that event, police officers responded by man-handling the protesters, causing injury to some, while others fainted.
But this time around, Ponpon’s action to self-immolate came as a result of suspension and threat of dismissal as well as pending investigation from the Justice Ministry based on a request from the upper echelons of the judiciary.
The Judiciary’s request was contained in a communication from Cllr. Elizabeth Nelson, the administrator of the court to Montserrado County Attorney, Cllr. Edwin Martins, to have Ponpon and others arrested and investigated for their actions against the judiciary, particularly on claims by Ponpon that the Chief Justice is corrupt and had threatened his life.
Before the self-immolation, Ponpon earlier claimed that he approached several lawyers to defend him against the accusation of Chief Justice Francis Korkpor and the associate justices. In his quest for justice against what he termed as “illegal intimidation and threat,” he alleged that lawyers refused to come to his defense for fear of reprisal by the Supreme Court Justices.
But a ranking official of the Liberia National Bar Association had disputed such claims, noting that they had asked Ponpon to submit a written request cataloging his complaints against the Chief Justice, but he so far failed to do so.
Meanwhile, Chief Justice Korkpor has said that claims by staffers that they have not been taking pay for one year, “are untrue. According to him, the only months that the judicial workers have not gotten pay are November and December of 2020.”
He stressed that it is “the national harmonization program that affected every one of us salaries, so claims that the money was cut to be added to the Chief Justice’s and Associate Justices’ salaries is far from the truth..
“This program is by law and all of us have been affected by it,” the Chief Justice said. “Members of the Supreme Court Justices did not introduce salary cut for any judicial worker, as it has been spreading in all quarters of the country,” Korkpor indicated. “The salary cut was done by the central government. Judges and Justices and the low-income employees were all affected by this decision.”