What should have been deliberations to establish whether the other four Justices of the Supreme Court should reject the decision by majority members of the Lower House to impeach one of their colleagues, Associate Justice Kabineh Ja’neh turned sour yesterday when Ja’neh’s lawyers challenged the competence of Associate Justice Joseph Nagbe to serve on the panel of Justices to hear the case.
Prior to his accession to the Supreme Court Bench, Nagbe was serving as Senator from Sinoe County when the then Chambers Justice, Associate Justice Sie-A-Nyene Yuoh, on August 18, imposed a stay order on the impeachment proceedings of Associate Justice Kabineh Ja’neh.
It was against this backdrop that Ja’neh’s lawyers on Thursday, October 18, while arguing their request for the Justices to lift the stay order and, in return, place a permanent Writ of Prohibition to prevent the lawmakers from proceeding with their planned impeachment, called on Justice Nagbe to recuse (step aside) himself from the proceedings.
No member of the House of Representatives was present at yesterday’s deliberations. The drama took place in the Joint Chambers of the Supreme Court where four of the five justices, excluding Ja’neh who had earlier recused himself, were seated in readiness to listen to legal arguments when one of Ja’neh’s lawyers, Arthur Johnson, challenged the legal competence of Nagbe to sit on the case because of possible conflict of interest or lack of impartiality.
During yesterday’s proceedings, Justice Nagbe challenged his colleague’s (Ja’neh) call for his recusal on grounds that he had done nothing wrong to warrant his recusal. “For any recusal, based on conflict of interest concerns, a judge may have earlier participated in the matter, but Ja’neh’s request was based on perception and assumption,” Nagbe insisted.
“I thought that Ja’neh brought evidence of my role as a senator on record or on the radio that I had provided consultation on his impeachment. Since there was no proof about that, I will not recuse myself,” Nagbe maintained.
According to Justice Nagbe, the legislature has two houses, Senate and Representative and each of them has the right to formulate its own rules in consonance with the Constitution.
“The House of Representatives begins the formulation of the bill of impeachment but there should be evidence before they can start the process to the exclusion of the House of Senate,” Justice Nagbe said.
Nagbe said further that the House of Senate by law should try the impeachment proceedings. ”We did not start the hearing of Ja’neh’s impeachment when I left my post as a Senator of Sinoe County. I did not play any part directly or indirectly, so I find it very difficult and reject the request for my recusal from further hearing of the matter.”
Nagbe contended “I have done nothing to warrant my recusal and so I will not step-down from Ja’neh’s impeachment hearing at the Supreme Court as one of the justices.” Prior to that, Ja’neh’s lawyer Johnson argued that since Nagbe was a member of the legislature at the time Ja’neh’s impeachment proceedings began, he had daily interaction with some of the lawmakers who had called for Ja’neh’s impeachment.
“Justice Nagbe held discussions with the lawmakers about Ja’neh’s impeachment and so he should recuse himself from hearing the matter,” Cllr. Johnson contended.
Shortly afterward, Cllr. Daku Mulbah, the Solicitor General, who represented the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) at the argument, rejected Ja’neh’s call for Nagbe’s recusal.
The ministry is not a party to the Ja’neh and lawmakers saga, but it was invited by the Supreme Court in the interest of the law since the lawmakers refused to attend the hearing.
“Ja’neh did not produce any legal fact to substantiate his accusation that Justice Nagbe participated in any discussions about Ja’neh’s impeachment. This is just a mere assumption and perception and the court should not give it credence,” Mulbah contended.
Justifying his statement, Cllr. Mulbah said the temporary prohibition was filed by the Chambers Justice against the House of Representatives and not the entire legislature. “Nagbe was not a member of the House of Representatives, but he was at the Senate so, how would they say he was a party to the impeachment of Justice Ja’neh,” he wondered.
“It was the House of Representatives that prepared the bill of impeachment in keeping with the law and the Senate to which Nagbe was a member should have conducted the trial which did not happen when Nagbe was appointed and subsequently confirmed as Associate Justice, so he has done nothing wrong for his recusal,” Mulbah maintained.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court yesterday reserved the ruling for Monday, October 22, as to whether Nagbe should recuse himself from the Ja’neh hearing.