In support of the 2016 US Department of State’s Human Rights Report that some judges in Liberia accept bribes to award damages in civil cases, a Liberian Judge on Monday agreed that most often the decisions of judges have been influenced by bribery.
According to the report, “Corruption persists in the legal system. Some judges accepted bribes to award damages in civil cases. Judges sometimes solicit bribes to try cases, release detainees from prison, or find defendants not guilty in criminal cases.”
The report further alleged that: “Defense attorneys and prosecutors sometimes suggested defendants pay bribes to secure favorable decisions from judges, prosecutors, jurors. Correction officers sometimes demanded payment to escort detainees to trial.”
While addressing the opening of the Civil Law Court on Monday, Liberian Judge Johannes Zogbay Zlahn said: “We as judges have allowed our fraternal relationships and love for our brothers and sisters who are lawyers to influence our decisions, which have invariably led to various disciplinary actions being taken against us.”
He said that when a judge is suspended for violation of one of the judicial canons, because a lawyer or lawyers influenced or misled the judge into taking the action for which he was suspended, “that judge is exposed to public disrepute, while the lawyers involved behaves as if they are saints.”
The Civil Law Court judge told his audience that in most instances, the lawyers involved are the first to speak ill of the disciplined judge, as if the judge is incompetent or absolutely corrupt.
Admonishing his colleagues, Zlahn said, “We as judges must therefore be careful with lawyers who are masquerading as our friends when their primary goal is to protect their clients’ interests, as well as, their wallets and bank accounts.”
Sounding a positive note, Zlahn said, “there are still some strong-willed judges capable of resisting pressures from lawyers, friends, relatives and members of their ethnic group,” but added that, “other judges are not so strong to resist such pressures.”
“As judges, therefore, we must not allow our sympathies or relationships with particular lawyers or individuals to lead us down a path of self-destruction or disgrace, because at the end the day, the lawyers or individuals in whose interest we act will abandon us, while we linger in shame and disgrace,” the Civil Law Court Judge advised his colleagues.