Votes today on amended Rule #63 for the impeachment trial
It took plenary of the Senate about two hours of heated debate to agree on how to thrash out a sticky and controversial portion of its amended Rule 63, which will now be used for impeachment trials.
The portion of amended Rule 63 stipulates that a senator serving as a juror must be allowed to serve as a witness and later vote during the impeachment trial.
According to count 18 of the amendments made to the Senate Standing Rule 63, “If a senator is called as a witness (the Senate serves as a juror in impeachment trials) he/she shall be sworn and give his/her testimony standing in his/her place.”
The chairman of the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Grand Cape Mount County Senator H. Varney Sherman, who made a supporting statement to that amendment, argued that legally he did not see anything wrong with a Senator who has constitutionally qualified as jury and, at the same time, called to serve as a witness in an impeachment trial.
But hardly did Sherman end his statement when “hardliner” senators, including Oscar Cooper (Margibi), Thomas Grupee (Nimba), and Daniel Naatehn (Gbarpolu) vehemently disagreed, pointing out that whatever amendment done to Senate Rule 63 must be in compliance with Article 43 of the Constitution.
Article 43 of the Liberian Constitution states that, “The power to prepare a bill of impeachment is vested solely in the House of Representatives and the power to try all impeachments is vested solely in the Senate.”
Senator Cooper in his verbal argument with Pro tempore Albert Chie, said that the amendment to Rule 63 was in direct conflict with the Constitution: “What we are doing here is setting up an impeachment proceeding that is a landmark that will be held for Presidents, Chief Justices, Senators, Representatives; and in setting this landmark precedent, my reservation is strong on Article 43 …” Sen. Cooper then walked out of the Chambers.
Other Senators argued further that for the sake of expediency and legality, a senator cannot be a jury and a witness at the same time, “because at that juncture, legality and expediency clash; legality prevails as a juror; you should remain as a juror, listen to all the factual issues and make a determination ,” Lofa County Senator Stephen Zargo said.
Senator Thomas Grupee said that since the Constitution has qualified Senators in an impeachment trial as jurors, “that means you are disqualified from serving as a witness, and in case a Senator has agreed to serve as a witness, we should be notified so that that person cannot be seated as a juror, because once we are seated, we are Constitutionally jurors; so fellow colleagues, this thing is clear, let us remove this amendment.”
In their amendment to the amendment, the Senators voted that once the Senate is seated Constitutionally as a juror, no Senator will be allowed to serve as a witness and at the same time vote as a member of that body.
In a final motion by Maryland County Senator J. Gbleh-bo Brown, the plenary mandated the Judiciary Committee to revise the rule in accordance with the decision made by plenary, “specifically that has to do with Chapter 15 and Chapter 18, and the final vote on the issue of adopting Rule 63 must be taken today.”
Meanwhile, there is yet no indication as to whether the impeachment trial of Supreme Court Justice Kabineh Ja’neh will come up during the one-month extraordinary session of the Legislature.
Well placed sources among the senators have expressed fear that some of their colleagues may abscond the trial, thus causing the Senate to fall short of the needed two-thirds voting power.