Days after Cllr. Arthur Johnson, one of the lawyers defending embattled Associate Justice Kabineh Ja’neh against his impeachment by lawmakers from the Lower House asked his colleagues to stay away from all courts in protest to the House’s disobedient action to the Supreme Court, members of the Liberia National Bar Association (LNBA) yesterday, August 29, descended heavily on Johnson, whose action they described as being “tantamount to serious ethical transgression.”
The LNBA is the umbrella organization that protects the legal interest of lawyers throughout the country.
While justifying his call for a protest, Cllr. Johnson then told a press conference that his protest was in defense of the rule of law, and not the political interest of Associate Justice Ja’neh, though he is one of the justices’ lawyers.
Not just to stay away, Cllr. Johnson also sent out text messages (SMS) to some LNBA’s executive members and Justice Minister Cllr. Frank Musa Dean.
A copy of Johnson’s text messages obtained by the Daily Observer reads, “Fellow and distinguished legal practitioners, we all need to stay away from courts, and all legal works for three days in protest to the Legislature for their disobedience to the Supreme Court writ of prohibition. This is a call for the protection of the rule of law, not only for Justice Ja’neh.”
The message continues, “The stay away protest will start from September 3-5, 2018, and congratulations for defending the dignity of our court.”
However, at Wednesday’s press conference, LNBA’s president, Cllr. Moses Paegar, said what was more troubling and was tantamount to serious ethical transgression on the part of Johnson, was that Johnson is one of the lawyers representing the legal interest of Ja’neh in the prohibition proceedings that was pending before the Supreme Court.
Peagar said they were shocked and dismayed by Cllr. Johnson’s call to galvanize and rally lawyers practicing in this jurisdiction to any action or inaction en masse.
He said the association has a structured leadership mechanism, which serves as conduit or a single voice through which it speaks.
“Johnson is not a member of the LNBA’s leadership, accordingly, his call on lawyers to boycott and stay away from all courts and from engaging in the practice of the legal profession does not have the endorsement of the Bar,” Paegar clarified.
He said that the Johnson’s texts, followed by his subsequent press conference on Monday, August 17, to reiterate, confirm and enforce the content of his message, “are in violation of the code of ethics, and professional conduct of lawyers in the country.”
“Johnson’s conduct was errant and misguided which, rather than confronting the situation, removing the logjam and easing the impasse between the two branches of government to prevent a constitutional crisis could have the effect, as we say in Liberian parlance, of putting gas on fire,” Paegar said.
He said that the Bar was at a loss as to the objective of Johnson’s call, which he said on the one hand purported to protect the rule of law and the dignity and respect of the judiciary, whilst at the same time encourages members of the LNBA to engage in an illegal act, which shows gross disrespect for and is an affront to the Supreme Court, the judiciary and the LNBA.
Paegar said that Johnson knows or has reason to know that it was forbidden under their code of ethic, and professional conduct for lawyers to speak on the substantive and procedural matters of cases pending before courts, which he believed that the writ of prohibition was no exception.
He then begged lawyers not to adhere to Johnson’s call for a protest.
Paegar added, “We are making this clarion call for all lawyers to ignore, reject and treat with utmost levity the authorized decision by Johnson.”
“We urge all lawyers to continue with the peaceful practice of their profession in the service of their clients and our common patrimony,” he said.
Paegar said that because of the egregious nature of Johnson’s action which, if left unchecked, could have the effect of undermining the role of the Bar to engaging the parties, Ja’neh and the House of Representative to harness adherence to the rule of law.
“We shall remain seized of the matter and refer same to the Grievance and Ethics Committee for the necessary and appropriate action,” he said about Johnson’s future.
As of Ja’neh’s impeachment saga, Paegar meanwhile cleverly said that cognizant of the fact that Liberia is a country of laws, “the LNBA hereby admonishes all parties to the ongoing impeachment saga to act within the pail of the law to preserve, and sustain our building a constitutional democracy.”
It may be recalled that the August 18 stay order was imposed by Associate Justice Sie-A-Nyene G. Yuoh, current Chamber Justice against some members of the House of Representatives, including Speaker Bhofal Chambers to desist from any impeachment proceedings against Associate Justice Kabineh Ja’neh, pending final determination by the Full Bench of the Supreme Court.
Yuoh’s stay order resulted from the Tuesday, July 17, 2018, 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 afterward, Speaker Chambers set an 8-man Ad-Hoc Committee to review and investigate the Impeachment Bill as well as the write-up of the proceedings, which matters has been sent to the Upper House to begin further preparation for Ja’neh’s trial.