-As Chief Justice rules today on hearing to recuse himself
The respondent in the motion filed by lawyers representing Associate Justice Kabineh Ja’neh, requesting Chief Justice Francis S. Korkpor to recuse himself, has assured him that he has committed no conflict of interest, and any attempt to do so will amount to treason.
“Your authority of presiding is in Article 43 and there is nowhere in that Article where the function duly assigned to you should be referred to another person; that will amount to treason…,” one of the respondent lawyers, Cyrenius Cephus, said on Monday, February 18, 2019 in reaction to an earlier presentation by Counselors of Justice Ja’neh.
In fact, Cllr. Cephus further warned, “you have no authority to violate Article 43 of the 1986 Constitution and, any attempt to do so, you have committed treason and there is ground for your impeachment. There will be pandemonium and chaos if you were to recuse yourself.”
The impeachment lawyers were emphatic that the Chief Justice is in no Constitutional violation: “this impeachment trial is governed by Rule 63 of the Legislative impeachment proceeding of the Senate, so you are sitting as presiding officer, as Chief Justice over a judicial proceeding that is two separate and distinct.”
Earlier, the lawyers representing Justice Ja’neh made a lengthy presentation and responded to the Managers’ (few members of the House of Representative who presented the bill of impeachment to the Senate) impeachment documents, citing a case (Annie Constance vs Kabineh M. Ja’neh) in which the Supreme Court ruled and the Chief Justice affixed his signature which was questioned and is the subject of the petition for the impeachment of Justice Ja’neh.
Ja’neh’s lawyers argued that the petitioners alleged that Justice Ja’neh and his lawyers manipulated the entire bench of the Supreme Court to rule in his (Ja’neh) favor in a specific matter before that body, and for that reason, it will not be prudent for the Chief Justice to preside as he may be asked as a witness in the trial.
The petitioners further contested that, besides the Chief Justice, Senator H. Varney Sherman should also recuse himself from the juror bench, because of his law firm, through Cllr. Albert Sims, represented a client mentioned in the Article of impeachment.
“Just in case that I recuse myself… who will preside over the trial,” Chief Justice Korkpor questioned.
In his response, Cllr Arthur Johnson stated that that was not the business of his team, “because Article 43 of the Constitution of Liberia did not contemplate in the event of incapacity of the Chief Justice to preside.”
In his pre-adjournment statement, the Chief Justice announced that reserved ruling for 3:p.m. today, and thereafter it will be decided whether to continue the trial immediately.
Meanwhile, River Gee County Senator, Conmany Wesseh, has maintained that the Senate is in error to proceed with the impeachment proceedings against Justice J’aneh because under the Constitution in that part of Article 43, which states, “The Legislature shall prescribe the procedure for impeachment proceedings which shall be in conformity with the requirements of due process of law”, the Senate acting alone cannot legally devise the rules of impeachment absent the involvement of the House of Representatives according to Senator Wesseh.
And further, maintained Senator Wesseh, due process would imply that procedural requirements for holding an impeachment trial are compliant with due process of law. Accordingly Senator Wesseh argues that both Houses should have approved the ground rules for impeachment. To the contrary, according to the Senator, the rules for impeachment were contrived solely by the Senate based on their own rules (Rule 63) which in his view constitutes a violation of Article 43 of the Constitution.
Senator Wesseh is one of four Senators who filed a motion before the Supreme Court seeking its intervention to prevent their colleagues from proceeding based on Senate Rule 63, rather than on rules agreed to by both Houses of the Legislature.
Their motion was however dismissed by the Supreme Court in a majority opinion and the matter was sent back to the Senate to proceed. But with recent calls by lawyers representing Ja’neh to have the Chief Justice recuse himself on grounds that he is conflicted, it appears a Constitutional crisis may be hovering in the works.
However judging from historical precedents, it appears hardly likely that Chief Justice Korkpor would recuse himself as demanded by lawyers representing Ja’neh at least for fear of provoking a Constitutional crisis.
And because Justice Ja’neh has since been impeached by the House of Representatives a decision by the Senate to remove him is more of a political decision rather than a legal one requiring conviction beyond al reasonable doubt.
That political decision, according to political observers, will certainly depend on a nod from the historically powerful and imperial Executive.