Ja’neh Awaits Supreme Court’s Decision on Writ of Prohibition

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Speaker Bhofal Chambers (right) supports the bid to impeach Associate Justice Ja’neh (left)

-Files legal memorandum, setting stage for hearing Writ of Prohibition but, House of Representative remains defiant!

Embattled Associate Justice Kabineh Mohammed Ja’neh now awaits the Supreme Court’s judgment on his petition for the issuance of a Writ of Prohibition against lawmakers from the Lower House, which sought to nullify his impeachment proceedings due to what he considers violation of Articles 20 and 43 of the Constitution, and Section 57.3 of the House of Representative Rules and Procedures.

The decision comes after Ja’neh’s lawyers on Wednesday, August 28, filed their brief (a written legal argument to provide the judge or judges with reasons to rule in a party’s favor) before the Supreme Court.

The High Court is yet to set a date to determine whether or not it should issue the writ against Ja’neh’s impeachment proceedings by the House of Representatives, though the lawmakers had refused to file their response to the Writ of Prohibition, and had even argued that the supreme court’s Prohibition order likewise violates Articles 3, 42 and 43 of the Constitution.

The Writ of Prohibition is an order from a superior court to a lower court or tribunal directing the judge, and the parties to cease the litigation, because the lower court does not have proper jurisdiction to hear or determine the matters before it.

But as both branches are coequal and the prerogative to impeach lies solely with the House of Representatives, the unanswered question is whether the Supreme Court has the authority to exercise jurisdiction over the House since it is not inferior body to the Supreme Court..

In their arguments, Ja’neh’s lawyers have argued that, Section 57.3 of the rules and procedures of the House of Representative confers exclusive jurisdiction, and authority on the House’s Judiciary Committee to hear, among other things, all matters relating to judicial proceedings, civil and criminal.

“Speaker Chambers acted improperly and illegally by establishing a Special Ad Hoc Committee to review the impeachment petition, and submit a report to the plenary in derogation of the exclusive authority conferred on the House Committee on Judiciary,” Ja’neh’s argument contained in his legal brief filed on Wednesday, August 28 before the Supreme Court.

His lawyers argued further that the House’s Judiciary Committee was one of the standing committees that Section 57.3 of rules and procedures point to, “and it was necessary for the speaker to have referred the petition for impeachment against Ja’neh to that committee for the appropriate actions to be taken thereon.”

According to Ja’neh, the setting up of the Ad Hoc Committee was a clear violation of Section 57.3 of the House of Representative rules and procedures, because Speaker Chambers was not vested with any authority to arbitrarily remove, and unilaterally transfer the petition for impeachment to that committee.

“Therefore the writ of prohibition should be issued to stop the lawmakers from proceedings by rules different from or at variance with the Section 57.3,” they argued.

They also argued that although the constitution confers jurisdiction on the House of Representative to initiate impeachment, the same constitution also requires that in the exercise of that authority, the lawmakers must not be in violation of any of the applicable, and relevant constitutional provision making specific reference to Articles 20, 43 of the Constitution.

 Article 20 (a) provides that “No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, security of the person, property, privilege or any other right except as the outcome of a hearing judgment consistent with the provisions laid down in this Constitution and in accordance with due process of law. Justice shall be done without sale, denial or delay; and in all cases not arising in courts not of record, under courts-martial and upon impeachment, the parties shall have the right to trial by jury.”

While article 43 also states, “The power to prepare a bill of impeachment is vested solely in the House of Representatives, and the power to try all impeachments is vested solely in the Senate. 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. No person shall be impeached but by the concurrence of two-thirds of the total membership of the Senate. Judgements in such cases shall not extend beyond removal from office and disqualification to hold public office in the Republic; but the party may be tried at law for the same offense. The Legislature shall prescribe the procedure for impeachment proceedings which shall be in conformity with the requirements of due process of law.”

Ja’neh also argued that although, it has been more than 30 years since the 1986 Constitution mandated the Legislature to prescribe, and publish the rules and procedure governing impeachments in Article 43 of the Constitution, up to date, the legislature has failed to carry-out that constitutional mandate to prescribe the rules and procedures necessary and required to govern impeachments.

“Since the legislature did not promulgate these rules prior to the commencement of the impeachment proceedings against Ja’neh, the entire proceedings are unconstitutional, null and void and of no legal effect, therefore, a Writ of Prohibition will lie to prohibit them from acting unconstitutionally,” Ja’neh’s argument stated.

The lawmakers had earlier argued that Ja’neh should be impeached, ousted and removed from the Supreme Court on grounds of “proven misconduct, abuse of public office, wanton abuse of judicial discretion, fraud, misuse of power and corruption.”

However, Ja’neh argued that the valid, and proper application of any of these grounds must strictly comply with the due process requirements of Article 20 of the Constitution which inter alia states that “no person shall be deprived of life, liberty, security of the person, property, privilege or any right except as the outcome of a hearing judgment consistent with the provisions laid down in this Constitution, and in accordance with due process of law……”

“None of the allegations of the impeachment petition meets any of the four grounds stated in Article 71. These are required to constitute prima facie and valid constitutional grounds for the impeachment of a Supreme Justice,” their argument noted.

Article 71 states that “The Chief Justice and Associates Justices of the Supreme Court and the judges of subordinate courts of record shall hold office during good behavior. They may be removed upon impeachment and conviction by the Legislature based on proved misconduct, gross breach of duty, inability to perform the functions of their office, or conviction in a court of law for treason, bribery or other infamous crimes.”

The imbroglio began on August 18 when Associate Justice Sie-A-Nyene Yuoh, who currently serves as Justice-in-Chambers, imposed a stay order on members of the Lower House from proceeding with the impeachment of Ja’neh and subsequently asked them to appear for hearing into Ja’neh’s petition against his impeachment.

Justice Yuoh’s action resulted from her acceptance of Ja’neh’s request for an Alternative Writ of Prohibition, seeking to prevent House Speaker Bhofal Chambers from proceeding with his impeachment.

“And all parties are ordered returned to status quo ante, pending the disposition of the Writ of Prohibition,” Yuoh’s order stated.

In July of this year, a petition signed by the acting chairman of the CDC in the House of Representatives for Montserrado County, Rep. Thomas P. Fallah of District #5, and Rep. Acarous Gray of District 8, a staunch member of the CDC, called for Justice Ja’neh’s impeachment.

In a communication to Speaker Chambers, the two CDC lawmakers argued that Justice Ja’neh should be impeached, ousted and removed from the Supreme Court of Liberia on grounds of “proven misconduct, abuse of public office, wanton abuse of judicial discretion, fraud, misuse of power and corruption.”

On Tuesday, July 17, 2018, the Bill of Impeachment Petition, together with a motion proffered by Grand Kru County District #1 Representative Nathaniel Barway,  received a favorable vote in the House of Representatives.

Shortly afterwards, Speaker Chambers set up an 8-man Ad-Hoc Committee to review and investigate the Impeachment Bill as well as the write-up of the proceedings. That committee was given three weeks, as of July 17, to begin work and report to Plenary.

Cllr. Arthur Johnson

But it can be recalled that in a similar case, the Supreme Court, in 2016, denied a petition for a Writ of Prohibition against the House of Representatives filed by the then embattled former House Speaker, Alex Jeneka Tyler. Tyler, then in the middle of an impeachment battle sought to prevent his colleagues from convening outside the regular House Chambers. Tyler contended that their actions were illegal and therefore sought the intervention of the Court.

However, the then Justice-in-Chambers, Jamesetta Howard Wolokolie denied the petition on grounds that the matter was political and it was one over which the Court could not exercise jurisdiction. Current lead lawyer for Justice Ja’neh, Arthur Johnson, leading the argument for the majority bloc at the time, vigorously maintained that the Court lacked jurisdiction as the matter of impeachment was solely within the purview of the House.

In a rather strange twist, Cllr. Arthur Johnson now finds himself, unlike then, arguing that this time around, the Supreme Court does have jurisdiction over internal processes of the House of Representatives. Legal observers maintain that Justice Yuoh should have relied on the precedence set by her colleague in the Alex Tyler impeachment case rather than venturing into what they refer to as rather “unchartered waters”.

Meanwhile the standoff between the Supreme Court and the House of Representatives continues with no end in near sight.

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7 COMMENTS

  1. The gates has ” been flung wide open “now. Corruption trials after this will be taken seriously and those who are setting the trap now will be “caught in it”. Rat trap is NOT just for rat ALONE!!!
    Now EVERYONE of the Government official can be tried for their frequent abuse of office and daily corrupted practices. Everyone knows this is a vendetta against the Associate Justice but by elevating his wrongful behavior to the extraordinary levels to that of an impeachable crime; they, the legislature, are setting the groundwork for other misdoings not to be ignored. Example Senator Sherman trial, Speaker Tyler trial, Senator Johnson war tribunal crimes Senator Cooper was crimes. Financial exposures of the legislators on their accumulation of wealth, shady deals of business concessions that rob the Liberian people and benefits the look legislators, questions of why these officials salaries and “perks of office make up nearly 25% of the budget and the country e economic health is deteriorating. No jobs,no or poor health care, poor access to education. This translates into “poor job performance ” but high salaries almost 1,000 times the average Liberian. Why???

    Speaker Tyler who was corrupt punishment was losing re-election as speaker by remain as a legislator. Why wasn’t he impeached or disgraced such as what the ? Why is Senator Sherman heading the judiciary committee when he is going through a criminal probe? Why was it acceptable for the former (non-impeached) Speaker Tyler to bring a bag of money to pass out to fellow legislators (as described by the newspapers ) when he was trying to keep his position then. Was this corrupt practice,business as usual? Why did a legislator get away with taping & impregnating his niece? Why during elections, legislators pay and transport “truck loads of people” to counties to vote for them? Fellow citizens, the charges of corruption and abuse of powers (regularly done by the legislature) will open up “a rat trap” that will easily “catch them” as well as the obviously corrupted executive branch. Corruption, unfortunately, is a problem Liberia has had for generations. In this “fragile peace”, please ,please maintain the stability of our sweet country!! Why not focus on the economy! Legalize dual citizenship so we can have our fellow citizen “with money,skills & talents” contributing like what President Weah has Express his visionary statement on. He has traveled and lived abroad for many years and realizes that development can be achieved by people who have experience its merits as well as those desiring it
    When can we get back to the business of the people!. We need functioning hospitals, people are dying for “simple thing” that are preventable in the modern world. We need to “properly educate our people”. Put some of the money we”waste on paying high salaries to our legislators”, salaries equal to members of the United State Congress (It the richest country in the world and we are the 4th poorest)!! We are blessed with natural resources whose revenues go to the “privileged few” while the masses STILL SUFFER, needlessly! We have thousands of Liberian-born whose human & financial resources sum up in the millions but the corrupt legislator deny them citizenship. NOW is the Time for US to re-evaluate OURSELVES! President WeAH, ACT NOW, YOU WERE ELECTED WITH A MANDATE TO “CHANGE THINGS AROUND!! OUR “PREVIOUS LEADERS FAILED US”, OUR LEGISLATORS RUMBLE WITH NONSENSE (impeaching a sitting Associate Justice for allegations NOT meriting that standard of Action). MR. PRESIDENT, You know them well, you know a few of them in their past were war lords, some present ones are under investigation for corruption, quite a few abuse their offices. Why do they now “point their corrupt fingers” towards an associate justice and then INFLATE his alleged wrong doings to that of an IMPEACABLE CRIME!! Why aren’t they focusing and proposing “issues and areas of development” in working with your administration to better our people?

    • Chief Charlie Bunadee – You raise good questions and I’m with you. Like we say back home, “rat trap is not for rat alone” and that’s good because what goes around comes around. They have opened a Pandora’s box and I think it’s good for our democracy because it sets a new precedent. The next time one of their own is involved in some misdeed, the public will demand that person face the consequences. So, it’s all good…let the process take its course. I believe the Supreme Court erred by trying to sabotage the impeachment process and I’m glad the house leadership didn’t budge. It was a principled stand by the House of Representatives. The constitution is clear on the impeachment authority and even a high school student can read and understand the language in the constitution. Our democracy is being tested and that’s how it’s supposed to work.

  2. Since I’ve relied on information about the impeachment proceedings from online publications of the various Liberian papers, this story greatly provides significant information that even non-legal practitioners can understand and conclude the Court has made a major blunder.

    Firstly, from facts in this story, Janeh’s Attorneys clearly misinterpreted the Constitution. And what’s mind boggling are that: 1) the Court has already addressed the matter of House Impeachment in a prior case and 2)at least one of the Attorneys petitioning the Court was also supported the Court’s opinion when it ruled in the prior case

    To ignore just those two facts damages the credibility of the current Court. Their actions in the current Impeachment proceedings lack an understanding of jjurisprudence. I believe any of
    the Justices who disagrees with the issuance of the writ of prohibition should write a dissenting opinion if the Court proceeds with the hearing and a decision. As such, the House will know those judges that are in clear violation of the Constitution and those seeking compliance. The House should then impeach those judges who are even violating the Court’s own precedent.

    The argument made by Janeh’s lawyers about the House not having a procedure on impeachment is immaterial to the Court’s illegal intervention. They should have appeal to members of the House to convince enough members to vote against the bill so as to deny the one third vote. There’s no other remedy provided by the Constitution.

    Furthermore, they erred in suggesting that the Judiciary Committee is exclusively mandated to handle impeachment. The House Bill of Impeachment proceedings are not judicial matters and also Article 43 did not designate a timeframe for the drafting of rules and procedures neither did it define what exactly should be in the procedures. The House has the vested sole (meaning 100%) authority. I commented in a prior related story of the two methods the House could have chosen in its sole discretion. First, had they not obtained the one third vote to proceed or if one third needed to proceed wanted more information before deciding. The House would’ve requested a hearing to ascertain more information from the accused Justice and this would’ve required a notice and hearing. Note, the House has authority to require public official to appear and answer questions pertaining to bill before it. The second, which is what seems to have happened, is one third believed the charges and voted to proceed, so there was no need for a hearing for additional information. None of these actions is subject to judicial review.

    I also commented, which this story has elaborated on, that a writ of prohibition is issued by a superior court to a lower court. Can any of the supporters of the Court’s action, with the writ of prohibition against the House, show me how that applies here?

    • There is no constitutional crisis. The House of Representatives is doing its business as defined in the constitution, but the Supreme Court is trying to derail that process. The court has placed itself in a bad position for which it must find a way out. They have no authority to interfere with proceedings at the Legislature. None.

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