As the public anxiously wait today, Monday, February 18, to hear as to whether or not Chief Justice Francis Saye Korkpor will heed the call for his recusal from presiding over the impeachment trial of Associate Justice Kabineh Ja’neh, a Supreme Court lawyer Jonathan Massaquoi last Friday said the Chief Justice may likely preside over the matter.
He said the applicable statutory standard requires Supreme Court justices to recuse themselves from cases where their “impartiality may reasonably be questioned, and in other words, Supreme Court justices must avoid the appearance of bias in their deliberations.”
Cllr. Massaquoi argued that if Justice Korkpor accepts the request to step-down he would be in complete violation of Article 43 of the Constitution.
The article provides that “when the President, Vice President or an Associate Justice is to be tried, the Chief Justice shall preside; when the Chief Justice or a judge of a subordinate court of record is to be tried, the President of the Senate shall preside.”
Cllr. Massaquoi further explained that there is no provision under Article 43 of the Constitution that calls for the recusal of the Chief Justice from an impeachment case of an associate justice.
“Who is going to replace the Chief Justice, if he is to step down from presiding over Ja’neh’s trial?” Massaquoi wondered. “Who do you expect to preside over the constitutional matter, if the Chief Justice recuses himself from the trial? If he recuses himself, he will be creating an opportunity for his replacement by President George Weah.”
The Ja’neh’s legal team in their argument for Korkpor’s recusal said because Justice Korkpor participated and signed the judgment in Madam Annie Yancy Constance’s appeal against Justice Ja’neh of which decision dismissed her appealed and awarded the woman’s property to Ja’neh. This is one of the accusations in the House of Representative’s bill of impeachment against Ja’neh.
“The head of the Supreme Court, Chief Justice Korkpor who participated and signed the judgment in the case of the Bill of Impeachment certainly cannot preside over the trial growing out said, Bill of Impeachment, as he is conflicted,” the Ja’neh legal team further argued.
The lawmakers also argued that Ja’neh manipulated Chief Justice Korkpor and the three other justices of the Supreme Court and ensured that no exception was made for the active negligence of Cllr. Lawrence Yeakula, who was the lawyer for Madam Annie Yancy Constance.
“And so Madam Annie Yancy Constance’s appeal was dismissed and the Respondent Associate Justice allowed to keep such a valuable property, for which he had paid such a small amount,” the lawmakers claimed.
Ja’neh’s legal team, however, said in cases where an appeal is subject to dismissal due to the gross negligence of an appellant’s lawyer, “the Supreme Court has traditionally heard the case on its merits and punish the lawyer for his negligence.”
That did not happen in Constance’s case and the justices dismissed her appeal and put the entire matter to a total end by putting Ja’neh in charge of her property.
In another the Case, Kabineh M. Ja’neh versus The House of Representatives of the National Legislature by and thru its Speaker Bhofal Chambers decided on November 30, 2018, in the October Term A.D. 2018, that the Supreme Court speaking through Chief Justice Francis S. Kporkpor, Sr. said with respect to the recusal of a Justice “….a Justice is required to recuse himself/herself when that case is brought before the Supreme Court or, a Justice is required to recuse himself/herself from a case that his relative is involved, or where the Justice is on record to have taken a position with respect to a particular case….”
They also argued that Judicial Cannon Twenty Five provides that “a judge should be mindful of his duty in the application of general law to particular instances, that our government is that of law and not of man, and that he violates his duty as an administrator of justice under such system if he seeks to do what he may personally consider substantial justice in a particular case and disregard the general law as he knows it to be binding on him.”
So, if the Chief Justice deviates from the general law in the current case contrary to, and in violation of the Judicial Cannon mentioned herein, Ja’neh’s lawyers contended that “fair and impartial proceedings will not be conducted under the presiding-ship of the Chief Justice.”
Accordingly, the Ja’neh lawyers claimed that “Korkpor having signed the judgment, which judgment is one (1) of the grounds for the impeachment of Ja’neh, is constitutionally prohibited to preside over the impeachment proceedings. And, that it is certainly a conflict of interest and against public policy for Korkpor to sit on the impeachment proceedings.
“Therefore, Korkpor should recuse himself from presiding over these impeachment proceedings in the interest of justice and fair play as the law in this jurisdiction dictates.”