The Supreme Court last Friday suspended Counsellor M. Wilkins Wright, former Associate Justice of the Supreme Court and former Solicitor General, and Judge Emery S. Paye, Resident Circuit Judge of the 8th Judicial Circuit in Nimba County from practicing law in the country for a year each in connection with a US$15.9 million fraudulent judgment against the Liberian government.
Cllr. Wright represents Liberia at the ECOWAS Court in Abuja, Nigeria, as one of the judges.
The court also suspended Judge Karboi K. Nuta, Resident Circuit Judge of Criminal Court ‘B’ in Monrovia for engaging in acts unbecoming of a judge, which degraded the dignity and integrity of the judiciary, stated the judgment issued by the Supreme Court yesterday.
It added that Cllr. Wright, who serves as one of the judges at the ECOWAS Community Court in Abuja, Nigeria, said when he was then Solicitor General of Liberia, that he deliberately obscured the fact of his lawyer-client relationship with FIDC/Sochor when at the time he conceded to a US$15.9 million fraudulent judgment against the government.
Before the Supreme Court judgment, Wright had previously represented FIDC in the same US$15.9 million case that the company brought against Liberia Mining Corporation (LIMINCO) and the Liberian government.
“The conduct of Cllr. Wright constitutes gross conflict of interest in breach of Rules 8 and 9 of the Code for the Moral and Ethical Conduct of Lawyers,” the Court’s judgment stated.
Rule 8 provides that “It is the duty of the lawyer at the time of retainer to disclose to the client all of the circumstances of his relations to the parties, if there be any and any interest in or connection with the controversy, which might influence the client in the selection of the counsel. It is unprofessional to represent conflicting interests.”
Also, Rule 9 states that, “Within the meaning of this rule, a lawyer represents conflicting interests when, on behalf of one client, it is his duty to contend for that which duty to another client requires him to oppose. The obligation to represent the client with undivided fidelity, and not to divulge his secrets or confidences, forbids also the subsequent acceptance of retainers or employment from others in matters adversely affecting any interest of the client with respect to which confidence has been reposed.”
Against this backdrop, the Supreme Court declared “Cllr. Wright is suspended from the practice of law directly and indirectly within the bailiwick of this Republic for a period of 12 calendar months with immediate effect.”
Regarding Judge Paye, the court declared that while being assigned at the 6th Judicial Circuit Civil Law Court, he diverted the course of justice in the case when on April 20, 2005, he awarded damages in the amount of US$15.9 million to FIDC and against the Liberian government, “being fully aware that the due process of law had deliberately been withheld from the government.”
The Court also ruled against “a consistent pattern of misconduct by Judge Paye, in violation of several Judicial Canons, and has thereby, suspended him for a period of 12 calendar months with immediate effect.”
For Judge Karboi Nuta, the court noted that while serving as Assigned Circuit Judge of the same 6th Judicial Circuit Civil Law Court in Monrovia he “was also adjudged in breach of his sacred duty as a Judge by engaging in acts unbecoming of a Judge and thereby degrading the dignity and integrity of the Judiciary.”
According to the judgment, Nuta made the court a party to the case before him by having the court enter into a contract with a third party for the sale of iron ore and receiving monies therefrom in a questionable manner.
“Judge Nuta’s conduct was also in breach of several Judicial Canons and is also suspended for a period of six calendar months with immediate effect,” the judgment declared.
“During the period of their suspension,” the judgment added, “these judges shall forfeit their salaries, allowances and other emoluments as they serve their respective punishments.”
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court on Friday also expressed its disappointment in Counselors Sayma Syrenius Sephas and Roland F. Dahn, for their failure as lawyers to thoroughly review the files of the said case by which means they would have discovered the scam to defraud the Liberian government.
“They have also challenged the constitutional authority of the Supreme Court by attempting to subordinate this Court to the ECOWAS Court,” the judgment indicted.
This, the Court held, was in contravention of Article 66 of the 1986 Constitution of Liberia, according to the judgment.
Article 66 says “the Supreme Court shall be the final arbiter of constitutional issues and shall exercise final appellate jurisdiction in all cases whether emanating from courts of record, courts not of record, administrative agencies, autonomous agencies or any other authority, both as to law and fact, except cases involving ambassadors, ministers or cases in which a county is a party. In all such cases, the Supreme Court shall exercise original jurisdiction. The Legislature shall make no law nor create any exceptions as would deprive the Supreme Court of any of the powers granted herein.”
Meanwhile, the Court has warned the affected lawyers to operate in the ambit of the law, and that a recurrence of this course of action shall lead to stringent disciplinary actions against them, the ruling cautioned.