The US$825,000 libel case filed by Cllr. Jerome Korkoya against two independent newspapers and one John H. T. Stewart, former Commissioner of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), was postponed indefinitely yesterday by Civil Law Court ‘A’ in Monrovia.
The decision was reached when one of the lawyers representing Cllr. Korkoya, also chairman of National Elections Commission (NEC), begged for the matter to be postponed. The court did not set any new date.
In his lawsuit, Korkoya accused the defendants of publishing separate articles on June 6, 2016, that injured his hard-earned reputation and good name, for which he is claiming US$200,000 as general damages and US$75,000 each from all three as punitive damages.
The newspapers sued are The Analyst and New Democrat. Sources hinted the Daily Observer that Korkoya and the New Democrat have reached “an amicable agreement,” for which charges against the newspaper have been dropped.
Yesterday’s decision was reached as a result of Korkoya’s lawyers and the defense team’s readiness to commence the trial, which did not happen as agreed.
The reason, according to one of Korkoya’s lawyers, is because their client is expected to leave the country, though he did not say when Korkoya will leave or return for the case.
Korkoya was absent from the hearing, though he was expected to take the witness stand yesterday, for which the court had arranged a jury panel to assist Judge Yussif Kaba to decide the matter.
Cllr. Cooper Kruah told the court and jury that his client will be out of the country, making it impossible for the case to continue.
Kruah did not give any further explanation where Korkoya was going or when he is expected to return to resume the case.
Meanwhile, Korkoya’s postponement request was accepted by Judge Kaba, who then disbanded the jury panel without instructing them when the case will resume.
“You have to go back home because we do not know when Korkoya will be ready for the continuation of the matter,” said Kaba to his jurors.
In his lawsuit Korkoya alleged that the newspapers alleged that the “NEC Chairman is very corrupt,” among others.
“During the 2014 special senatorial elections, the NEC was awash with rumors that one of the candidates had presented him a brand new Ford SUV, which he had accepted,” the papers reported.
Korkoya was also accused of fixing election results in several counties, including Bong, and was reportedly seen in Gbarnga, the county’s capital, with Senator Jewel Howard Taylor on the day of the polls.
Another publication also claimed that “Korkoya has been providing subventions (bribes) to the leadership of some political parties to ensure their acquiescence and silence on crucial matters concerning the NEC.”
The newspapers further published that “the integrity of the NEC, especially under the corrupt and incompetent leadership of Jerome Korkoya, and the 2017 elections results could be compromised…”
Section 10.4 (b) of the New Elections Law, under election offenses, provides that “bribery is committed where a person receives money or any valuable consideration or promise for the purpose of influencing any vote or cancelling or destroying any ballot paper, ballot box, election writs, a signed register with the intent to defeat the election.”
It also states that “a person convicted of said crime may be imprisoned for up to five years and disqualified from holding any elective public office in the country or from voting in any public election for a period of seven years.”
In his lawsuit, Korkoya alleged that Stewart’s statement was false, unprivileged, scandalous, and libelous, for which he is seeking US$825,000 as damages from the three defendants.
Korkoya also claimed that before June 6, 2016, Stewart made the two newspapers to publish another story with the caption: “Assessing Presidential Candidate Joseph N. Boakai’s Chances in 2017.”
In counterargument, Stewart’s lawyer claimed that although Korkoya argued that the statements damaged his reputation, he has not pointed to any negative development, such as whether or not people still respect him, or whether he has been denied certain opportunities.
“No political party has advocated his removal from office following the publication that forms the basis of this lawsuit, and he still occupies his position as chairman of the NEC,” Stewart’s lawyer contended, adding, “It is a principle of law in this jurisdiction that where there is no injury, the law gives no remedy.”
The lawyer called on the court to dismiss the entire lawsuit on grounds that “the law on defamation does not protect a public figure or public official in the same way as it does for an ordinary person.
“Because the life of a public official or figure is open to public scrutiny at all times, assuming that the statements were false, it is not sufficient grounds for Korkoya to file an action claiming damages for defamation unless he shows that the defendants acted with actual malice.”
He also argued that Korkoya as a public figure has the ability to counter any unfavorable statements made about his public conduct, saying “After the publication of the statements that he considers to be untrue, unlike an ordinary person, he should have done so immediately following the publications.”