The action by several counselors representing the Sherman and Sherman Law Firm that prevented sheriffs of the Monrovia City Court at the Temple of Justice from retrieving documents and computers when they were executing a search and seizure order at the law firm’s offices has caused them to be held in contempt of the court.
The search and seizure order was asked for by the Special Presidential Task Force to allow them to collect documentary evidences that would assist them in their investigation of the Global Witness report that implicated the Sherman and Sherman Law Firm in a US$950,000 bribery allegation, a search the lawyers prevented from happening.
Those held in contempt by the court yesterday are: Counselors Goldal A. Bonah-Elliott, Moses Paegar and Albert Sim, of the Sherman and Sherman Law Firm; Cyril Jones of the Jones and Jones Law Firm; and Musa Dean of Dean and Associates.
Cllrs. Bonah-Elliott, Paegar and Sim, according to Magistrate Kennedy Peabody, were held in contempt of court and ordered to pay L$10,000 each into government revenue, and also to immediately present the computers in question.
The magistrate added that if they failed to honor the court’s decision, they would be sent to jail, stressing that the lawyers’ action to prevent the court from exercising its legal jurisdiction was clearly “contemptuous.”
According to him, if they had allowed the sheriffs to take possession of the computers and other documents, and if they felt that the sheriffs’ action was illegal, they would have sought legal redress from the court; and since they did not do so, they disrespected and undermined the court, which they are a part of.
“The responsibility of a lawyer is not to do things that would undermine the function of the court. Since indeed they chose to obstruct justice by preventing the court from doing its duty, they had to be punished,” stated Magistrate Peabody.
He then described lawyers who willfully obstructed the court’s order as “those of the best legal minds and role models of the legal profession,” saying that he never expected them to behave in the way they did.
“Unless the court is respected, we as lawyers would never be respected, because the respectability of the court gives relevance to us as lawyers,” the City Court Magistrate reminded the lawyers connected to the incident.
Prior to yesterday’s decision, Sherman and Sherman lawyers argued that the search and seizure order did not clearly specify whether or not they should turn over their office computers to the sheriffs.
They argued further that they could not hand over their computers because of the huge presence of armed police officers and other staff of the Task Force that accompanied the sheriffs.
The lawyers told the court that they did not obstruct the sheriffs’ function; instead, they did not allow them to take away their computers as the sheriffs had requested of them.
According to the lawyers, they would not do anything to bring the court to public ridicule thereby disrespecting its functions.
“We allowed them to search all of our files, but we told the sheriffs to search our computers and to copy whatsoever information they wanted, but they said they were interested in taking our computers away, which we prevented them from doing,” the lawyers said during their joint argument.
Meanwhile, the Special Presidential Taskforce has hailed the Monrovia City Court for adjudging lawyers representing Senator Varney Sherman guilty of obstructing the ‘search and seizure’ execution by Court Sheriffs.
According to a press release issued by the Taskforce yesterday, Judge Peabody’s actions against the five lawyers demonstrate that no one is bigger than the law, irrespective of their status or affiliations in society.
Cllr. J. Fonati Koffa, head of the task force, noted further that individuals who are directly or indirectly affected by court actions should allow the law to take its course rather than blocking justice.
“No one is above the law. The decision by the court to adjudge each of those lawyers guilty with L$10,000 fine levied on each for obstructing justice suggests that the rule of law is ready to take its course in Liberia.
“Gone are those days when people acted outside of the law to appease themselves. We hail the court for defending the rights of those sheriffs. We also call for a strict adherence to the rule of law and commend the court for allowing justice to prevail in this matter,” said Cllr. J. Fonati Koffa, Minister of State without Portfolio and Taskforce Chairman.