Wailings and grief described the scene at the Temple of Justice yesterday when it was announced that the judge of Civil Law Court B – an annex to the main Civil Law Court, Johannes Zogbay Zlahn, had died.
Judge Zlahn’s death came exactly five days after he confirmed the 2016 U.S. Department of State’s Human Rights Report that judges in the country are corrupt because they accept bribes to award damages in civil cases.
Judge Zlahn, 61, died on Saturday, March 25, at his Zayzay Community residence in Soul Clinic, Paynesville, outside Monrovia.
According to family sources, Judge Zlahn passed away while resting in his bedroom before he was due to return to the court by 12 noon on Saturday.
“He came out of his room that morning and later went back to rest before going to court.
But when his daughter went back to the room to wake him up, she noticed that her father had died,” the family said.
The family said through a female member that when they took him to the hospital afterward, the hospital authorities pronounced him dead upon arrival.
Judge Zlahn joined the judiciary in 2013 when President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf appointed him as a judge. He was subsequently confirmed by the Senate as relieving judge.
The cause of Judge Zlahn’s death had not been established up to press time last night. Meanwhile, many lawyers and other court staff described him as a “fearless, no nonsense judge.”
Zlahn was the first judge of the newly created Civil Law Court B annex of the Civil Law Court at the Temple of Justice in Monrovia.
In his acknowledgement of the U.S. State Department report, Judge Zlahn advised his colleagues not to allow sympathy or relationships with a particular lawyer or individual lead them down a path of self-destruction or disgrace, “because at the end the day, the lawyers or individuals in whose interests we act will abandon us while we linger in shame and disgrace.”
Zlahn’s statement was made on Monday, March 20, the day the U.S. State Department released it corruption report about Liberia’s justice and legal system.
The report claimed that corruption in Liberia persists in the legal system to the extent that some judges accept 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.
“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,” the report indicated.
Further to his statement, the late Judge Zlahn agreed that most often the decisions of judges are influenced by bribery.
Zogbay Zlahn added: “We as judges have allowed our fraternal relationships and love for our brothers and sisters who are lawyers to influence our decisions, an act which has invariably led to various disciplinary actions being taken against us.”
“The death of Judge Zlahn is a serious blow to the judiciary because most of his utterances were intended to restore the integrity of the courts. His recent statements sent a strong warning about the behavior of lawyers towards access to justice,” said Cllr. Tiawan Gongloe.