-Held liable for illegal transfer of over US$1 million
Days after the US State Department released its 2020 Human Rights Report on Liberia implicating judges and magistrates of the Judiciary Branch of the Government of bribery, the Chief Judge of the Commercial Court has been found guilty of withdrawing over US$1 million illegally. The Judicial Inquiry Commission that investigated Judge Eva Mappy Morgan and found her liable has therefore recommended a year suspension for her without pay and benefits.
The Supreme Court’s disciplinary commission, the JIC, after eight months of Investigation on Wednesday, April 7 said, “Eva Mappy Morgan, respondent, recklessly abused her discretion when she illegally ordered the President of the Liberia Bank for Development and Investment (LBDI) to unfreeze the accounts of Ducor Petroleum Inc.
The company was at the center of legal contention before the Commercial Court that Eva presided over as a judge, where the contentious parties, the Monrovia Oil Trading Company (MOTC), a Belgium owned company and Ducor Petroleum Inc. owner, Amos Brosius (complainant) had agreed for Judge Morgan to freeze the accounts at the LBDI pending final determination of the matter.
Without the consent of the complainant Amos Brosius, the JIC Investigation said Judge Morgan wrote the LBDI President to unfreeze the accounts that allowed the MOTC to withdraw the amount of over US$3 million.
The JIC also said it was of the opinion that the complainant, Brosius, has suffered or is suffering unimaginable pains, agony and mental distress occasioned by the wanton and reckless disposition of respondent Morgan in the matter of the petition for accounting filed by the Belgium run company, Monrovia Oil Trading Company (MOTC) against Brosius.
However, the JIC further recommended that the complainant is not precluded by these proceedings to institute action of damages for wrong against respondent Morgan in a competent court of jurisdiction.
The latest report from the Judiciary about a judge seems to substantiate claims by the US Government in its 2020 human rights report, which states in part that, “The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary, but judges and magistrates were subject to influence and engaged in corruption.”
“Judges sometimes solicited bribes to try cases, grant bail to detainees, award damages in civil cases, or acquit defendants in criminal cases. Defense attorneys and prosecutors sometimes suggest that defendants pay bribes to secure favorable decisions from judges, prosecutors, and jurors, or to have court staff place cases on the docket for trial,” the report said.
It also mentioned that some judicial officials and prosecutors appeared subject to pressure, and the outcome of some trials appeared to be predetermined, especially when the accused persons were politically connected or socially prominent.
The Judicial Inquiry Commission (JIC), headed by a Supreme Court Associate Justice Yussif Kaba and made up of seven judges, lawyers and scholars, ruled that Judge Morgan, President of the National Trial Judges of Liberia (NTJL), ruled that the respondent, Judge Morgan, violated the fundamental rights of the complainant, (Brosius). The Constitution, statutes and Judicial Cannon of the Republic of Liberia, stressing, “In manner and form so egregious, reckless, callous with remorse, the JIC recommends that the Supreme Court suspends the respondent for the period of one year without pay and benefits,” the recommendation noted.
Other members of the commission includes, Counselor George E. Henries, Judge J. Boima Kontoe, Judge James E. Jones, Sister Mary Laurene Brown, Mr. Emmanuel Z. Bowier, Magistrate Nelson Chinneh and Counselor Jura Lynch.
The implementation of the recommendation now rests squarely with Chief Justice Francis Korkpor and his colleagues.
The JIC Investigation said that on July 22, 2020, Counselor T. Negbalee Warner, addressed a letter to the respondent, Judge Eva Mappy Morgan, Chief Judge of the Commercial Court on behalf of his client MOTC, in which he requested the judge to de freeze the Ducor Petroleum Inc. bank account no 02221215153401 housed at the Liberia Bank for Development and Investment (LBDI) to his client so as to enable MOTC to fund an interim management team it had set up without any reference to me nor to my lawyers while the case is pending in court and not yet determined.
Immediately, on July 23, 2013, Judge Morgan ordered the President of LBDI to do effectively just as Cllr. Warner had requested in his letter July 22, 2013.
Further, on July 24, 2013, less than twenty-four hours after Cllr. Warner’s letter was filed with Judge Morgan, the Judge ordered the President of LBDI to pay US$212,704.36 to the sheriff of the Commercial Court without any reference to him.
She then ordered the bank to allow transaction in the account no 02221215153401 to return the account to status quo ante, which means that the signatory mandate in that account shall continue as two signatories from MOTC and one signatory from Amos Brosius, and any two signatories can authorize transaction in that account.
That the Ducor Petroleum Inc owed other vendors a court verified amount of US$999,365.77. She took custody of the amounts in the bank and receivable accounts, but ignored the debt of the company for the past seven years, thus resulting to some of those vendors instituting lawsuit against him for overdue payable.
Judge Morgan and another judge, Richard S. Klah, presided over the matter and decided it within two weeks.
The JIC said it established from the Investigation unrefuted by the respondent Morgan that she presided over the petition for accounting filed by MOTC against the complainant involving the amount of US$8 million as a single judge of the Commercial Court of Liberia contrary to the Act establishing the court.
Article V. Section (2) provides as followed: “A case filed before the Commercial Court may be heard by one of the three judges of the Commercial Court provided that where the amount of claim is in excess of US$1million or Liberian dollar equivalent, the case shall be heard by the full three panel.”
The standing law in this jurisdiction is that any order, ruling or judgment of a judge is a legal nullity where the judge presides over a case without jurisdiction. Therefore, the JIC said, “The decision of respondent Morgan to assume jurisdiction over the case and issue several ex parte orders in respect of the freezing, unfreezing and returning the account of Ducor Petroleum Inc. to status quo ante violates the Judicial Cannon.”
In the instant case, the JIC maintained that its investigation unrefuted by the parties established that the freezing order made by respondent Morgan on July 15, 2013, was a result of an agreement by the MOTC and the complainant to freeze the accounts of Ducor Petroleum Inc. except for the seven checks totaling US$212,704 .36 for the interim management of the company pending audit.
“The freezing of the account in question being a result of an agreement, respondent Morgan ought not to have ordered ex parte the unfreezing and returning to status quo ante on July 23, 2013, and July 24, 2013 respectively, without the agreement of complainant Brosius.
“Respondent Morgan’s conduct violates Judicial Cannon 23and 24,” the JIC recommendation indicated.
Cannon 23 says, “A judge should discourage ex parte hearing of application for injunction and receivership where the order may work detriment to absent parties, he should act upon such ex parte application only where the necessity for quick action is clearly shown. If this be demonstrated, then, he should endeavor to counteract the effect of the absence of the opposing counsel by a scrupulous cross examination as to the facts and the principles of law on which the application is based, granting relief only when satisfied that the laws permit it and the emergency demands it. He should remember that an injunction is a limitation upon the freedom of action of defendant and should not be granted lightly or unadvisedly. One applying for such relief must sustain the burden of showing clearly the necessity and this burden is increased in the absence of the party whose freedom of action is sought to be restrained even though only temporarily.”