-Judge Smith says at Samuel Geevon Smith’s funeral
A Liberian jurist, Judge George W. Smith has made a call for judges to independently exercise their judicial functions void of extraneous (extra, unnecessary) influence. The Judge’s exhortation was made during the funeral of the late C. Samuel Geevon Smith, former Resident Judge of of the 14th Judicial Circuit in Rivercess County
Judge Smith (no relation to the deceased) is the current Resident Circuit Judge of the 15th Judicial Circuit, in River-Gee County. He spoke at the funeral service that was held in the late Judge Geevon Smith’s hometown in River Cess County.
Addressing justices, judges and family members, Smith recalled how he was informed by Judge Geevon Smith, prior to his death in July this year, about a decision he (Geevon) took to recuse himself from a high profile case, “because of intense external pressure from some influential individuals.”
Judge Smith did not mention any name during the tribute.
“As a judge, I tried to decide cases based on the law, and my conscience. But this job we are doing is difficult, especially when a case of a high profile and/or political nature is before you,” Smith said.
“We are usually under intense pressure from influential personalities to influence our decision,” he said.
Even on his sick bed, Judge Smith told the gathering, the late Geevon picked-up his mobile phone, and then downloaded and read a March 2014 Term of the Supreme Court’s opinion in one of the high profile cases. Smith was then speaking on behalf of the judges.
“He could not exercise his judicial function based on extraneous pressure; and in the final analysis, the Supreme Court reversed his decision; he could not conscientiously exercise his judicial function independently as per the Constitution, and subsequently suffered the wrath of some influential force with nobody defending him,” Judge Smith said.
Smith spoke of his friend’s recusal from that case as a “revolt” in defense of judicial independence, and “he was bequeathing to us from his dying bed this advice: Judges must diligently support, uphold, protect and defend judicial independence.”
“Our dying colleague was reminding us that our Constitution requires judges to exercise their judicial function independently, and devoid of extraneous influence,” Smith told his colleagues.
He added, “We judges are now members of the International Association of Judges (IAJ). Individually and collectively, we have acceded to those international agreements regarding judicial independence.”
Smith said in the legal rule, judges exercise their judicial function independently on the basis of their conscientious understanding of the law, “and so we must be free of external influences, inducements, pressures, threats or influence.”
Smith recalled how he and Judge Geevon Smith became acquainted in 2014, when he was assigned to preside over the 14th Judicial Circuit of River Cess County during the August and November 2014 Terms of Court. Geevon was then the Resident Circuit Judge.
During those years, Smith said he was driven by Geevon’s commitment to the rule of law.
Despite Geevon’s deteriorating health, he was still lecturing people about the rule of law and the Constitution, while even on his deathbed.
“I advised him to go and rest, but the ailing judge did not heed my advice, and I decided to listen to the lecture,” declared Judge Smith reflecting on Geevon’s passion for the rule of law up to his death.
Meanwhile some members of the Liberia National Bar Association have welcomed the Judge’s call for judges to independently “exercise their judicial functions void of extraneous influence”. A prominent member of the Bar, name withheld told the Daily Observer that while Judge Smith did not name any individual or the source of the extraneous influence referred to, his remarks nevertheless spoke to the practice allegedly by members of the Supreme Court Bench to interfere in cases in which they have vested interest.
The lawyer made reference to cases involving the West African Fisheries and the case involving the intestate estate of Milad Hage vs Ecobank, represented by his widow Oumou Hage. According to a Daily Observer report of January 5, 2015, the Supreme Court ordered the recusal of Judge Vinton Holder from presiding over the case and instead transferred jurisdiction of the case to Judge Eva Mappy Morgan of the Commercial Court. Judge Holder’s removal was based on the Supreme Court’s perception of bias on the part of Judge Holder.
A communication from the Court addressed to Judge Holder in December 2015, reads “His Honor J. Vinton Holder, who has been handling this case, can no longer preside over the this case to project and portray the cool neutrality that a judge provides in such cases.”
But Judge Holder, in reaction at the time, told the Daily Observer the decision taken by the Court was a relief. “I’m very much happy that this case has gotten off my back, because everyday a jeep will come to my house asking for me,” the Judge alleged.