Chief Justice Francis S. Korkpor on Monday informed a gathering comprising of Associate Justice Philip A. Z. Banks, judges, lawyers and judicial employees that he was not ready to comment on the controversial petition seeking the impeachment of three justices, including Banks, from office. Addressing the well-attended opening of Criminal Courts, A, B, C, D and E at the Temple of Justice in Monrovia, Korkpor said, “I prefer not to speak on the matter for now, because I do not want to be seen as a person who has taken sides on the issue.”
Korkpor’s withholding of comment on the matter left most of the lawyers and judges in complete shock. Some of them were heard outside of the meeting hall saying, “We expected a definite statement from the Chief Justice, but he did not say anything in that respect.”
Recently some members of the House of Representatives, who described themselves as “majority block,” joined by few members of the Senate, wrote a complaint to the Chief Justice inviting Associate Justices Banks, Kabineh Ja’neh and Jamesetta Howard-Wolokollie to first determine if there is a prima facie case to be investigated before proceeding to conduct the full investigation. However, the accused justices had refused to attend the first investigation. That full scale investigation, if successful, will be presided over by Justice Korkpor with assistance from some members of the Senate who will serve as jurors.
The lawmakers alleged that their action is due to the justices’ violation of their oath of office by engaging in misconduct and the inability to perform their functions, which they said is based on the justices’ judgment (ruling) that reversed the National Elections Commission’s rejection of two vice presidential candidates, Harrison Karnwea of the Liberty Party and Jeremiah C. Sulunteh of the Alternative National Congress (ANC), from contesting the upcoming elections for violating the Code of Conduct. The two did not resign their government positions two years prior to their intention to contest the elections.
Responding to the lawmakers’ action, the Liberia National Bar Association (LNBA) contended that, although Chief Justice Francis Korkpor also signed the July 20 judgment along with Justices Ja’neh, Wolokollie and Banks, the petition singled out Justices Ja’neh, Wolokolie, and Banks for impeachment. “This clearly demonstrates that the petition is not based on any alleged constitutional violation, but it is patently discriminatory, politically motivated, arbitrary, capricious, and based on personal biases against the three Associate Justices,” argued Cllr. Moses Paegar, LNBA President. However, Justice Korkpor, said there are two complaints on the subject matter before him, and that he would deal with them as the constitution stipulates. “All two matters are pending; and so, as head of the Supreme Court and members of the judiciary, I am not going to make any comment before I am seen as siding with either party,” Justice Korkpor emphasized, adding, “What I will say is that I am going to ensure that the rule of law will prevail in the matter.” Korkpor maintained that they are going to make sure to be the voice of the constitution and statutory laws of the country. “The constitution does not see, it does not speak, and we are the one expected to give it voices. If we fail to do so, then, we will not be living up to the task reposed upon us by our law,” Korkpor noted.
Before Korkpor’s comment, the Justice and Peace Interest Consortium (JUPICA), a law firm, and Cllr. Edwin Kla Martin, a candidate for the House of Representatives for District#3 in Maryland County, filed a petition to Justice in Chamber Banks asking him to issue a “Writ of Prohibition” against the lawmakers’ decision. Justice Banks issued the order, but it was rejected by the lawmakers. JUPICA and Martin argued that the involvement of some members of the Senate, who are supposed to be the jury in any impeachment proceedings, in the signing of the purported document, and to concur, renders the process void of legal effect. They further argued that the action by the plenary of the House and its Judicial Committee seeks to reduce the status of the Judiciary as one of the co-equal branches of the three-branched-government to a subordinate department of legislature, an act prohibited by the constitution. Their lawsuit also argued that the Supreme Court is the sole body to determine the constitutionality of any act or other actions by any of the other branches of the government.