A member of the Civil Law Court trial jury was last Tuesday night arrested by officers of the Liberia National Police (LNP), after she was allegedly spotted leaving the office of Cllr. Cooper Kruah, who is a lawyer for Embassy Suites Hotel. This hotel is seeking a US$3 million damages lawsuit against Ecobank-Liberia.
The arrest of Juror Elizabeth Belleh, prompted Judge Johannes Z. Zlahn yesterday to disband the entire jury and suspend further hearing of the case, surprisingly without conducting any investigation into the allegation, as it had been done in previous jury tampering cases.
Instead, the Civil Law Court Judge noted that his action was to avoid any doubt over whatever the outcome of the case could be.
Juror Belleh was escorted from Cllr. Kruah’s office located on Benson Street, in Monrovia before she was subsequently arrested by the police, Ecobank’s lawyers told the court.
They made the allegation when they filed their formal complaints before Judge Zlahn yesterday, informing him about the arrest and subsequent investigation of juror Belleh.
In their complaint, the lawyers contended that they had been keeping surveillance on Juror Belleh even before she was removed from the case by Judge Zlahn.
It was based on their intelligence, the Ecobank’s legal team claimed, that they and the police succeeded in arresting Juror Belleh.
In counter argument, Cllr. Kruah denied the allegation, arguing that Juror Belleh was not arrested in his office; instead she was apprehended while she was walking around his office.
“I was not in my office either when they claimed that they arrested Juror Belleh, she was only arrested while she walking around my office and not when she was leaving from there,” Cllr. Kruah further alleged.
Besides, Cllr. Kruah argued that Belleh was no more a juror hearing the case and as such she should not be held responsible for anything relating to the case.
His argument was ignored and Judge Zlahn went ahead and disbanded the trial jury.
Initially, Belleh was dropped from the case, after she was accused by Ecobank’s lawyers of conversing with one of Cllr. Kruah’s witnesses, Aaron B. Solomon. But Judge Zlahn chose to keep her as one of the jurors of the Civil Law Court.
In his decision, Judge Zlahn said, “In order to avoid appearing inappropriately, which may cast the cloud of doubt over what the outcome of the case may be, juror Elizabeth Belleh should be and is hereby removed from serving as jury on this particular case.”
“Accordingly,” Judge Zlahn added, “she is hereby removed from the jury but may serve on another jury during this term of court, if she is selected.”
A legal expert, who asked not to be named, told the Daily Observer that the law requires all jury proceedings be kept secret. Secrecy allows witnesses and the jurors to speak freely and honestly as they discuss evidence and make decisions.
“Each juror takes an oath that he or she will not disclose any proceedings among themselves or with any of the parties,” the legal expert noted.
“The key responsibility of the jury,” according to the expert, “is to decide whether a party has enough evidence against a suspect to hold them liable for a commission of a crime.”