A decision by Chief Justice Francis Korkpor to support his new Associate Joseph Nagbe to resist granting embattled Justice Kabineh Ja’neh’s petition for prohibition to prevent majority members of the House of Representatives from impeaching him (Ja’neh) has created a serious division among judges of the Supreme Court, according to a well-placed judicial source.
Recently, the four Supreme Court justices, tied in a 2-2 vote on Ja’neh’s Writ of Prohibition, caused President George Weah to appoint Judge Boima Kontoe (Criminal Court ‘C’) to break the tie, which now put Ja’neh’s future at the mercy of Kontoe.
Weah’s appointment of Kontoe, as an ad hoc justice of the Supreme Court for Ja’neh’s prohibition, was backed by Article 67 of the 1986 Constitution.
That article states, “The Supreme Court shall comprise one Chief Justice and four Associate Justices, a majority of whom shall be deemed competent to transact the business of the Court. If a quorum is not obtained to enable the Court to hear any case, a circuit judge in the order of seniority shall sit as an ad hoc justice of the Supreme Court.”
A judicial source told the Daily Observer that “Associates Justices Jamesetta Wolokolie, Sie-A-Nyene Yuoh, and Ja’neh have been seen for days holding closed-door discussions without the participation of their bosses, Korkpor and Nagbe.”
“Right now all of them are at loggerheads on the Ja’neh impeachment proceedings, because at one time, they all promised to protect the interest of Ja’neh, whenever there is any decision by lawmakers to impeach him (Ja’neh),” the well placed judicial source alleged.
Besides the source, a senior Supreme Court lawyer (name withheld) also told the Daily Observer that there is a serious tension among the justices about the chief justice’s action. “Our justices need to understand the importance of keeping the Supreme Court out of partisan politics,” the senior lawyer emphasized.
However, the lawyer did not mention the embattled Ja’neh’s camp or the Chief Justice by name.
In 2004, during the reign of the National Transitional Government of Liberia, then Counselor Francis S. Korkpor was appointed to the Supreme Court of Liberia as Associate Justice for the period of two years, a position for which he was nominated and subsequently reappointed by former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf upon assuming the Presidency in 2006.
On April 18, 2013, Korkpor was appointed Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Liberia, a position he currently occupies. Also, in 2006, then Counselor Kabineh M. Ja’neh was nominated and subsequently appointed Associate Justice to the Supreme Court bench. Both Korkpor and Ja’neh are sons of Nimba County and have been on the Supreme Court bench for over 12 years.
Our reporter on Friday, November 2, at the Temple of Justice witnessed Justices Wolokolie and Yuoh entering into a parked vehicle, believed to belong to Justice Wolokolie, and immediately left the Temple of Justice without lecturing with the chief justice, who was seen walking out of the building right behind them.
Prior to Friday’s incident, the justices usually waited for each other outside of the Temple of Justice, even when they were leaving for their respective homes, which did not happen on Friday.
Also, an effort by the reporter to get the view of Judge Kontoe about his preferment up to press time did not materialize, and Kontoe’s cell phone was switched-off for that entire day.
The case began when Ja’neh’s legal team, in their petition, resisted his impeachment and argued that under Article 73 of the 1986 Constitution, no judicial official shall be summoned, arrested, detained, prosecuted or tried civilly or criminally by or at the instance of any person or authority on account of judicial opinions rendered or expressed, judicial statements made and acts done in the course of a trial in court or in chambers.
The lawyers also argued that Article 20 (a) of the 1986 Constitution provides that no person shall be deprived of life, liberty, security, property, privilege or any other right except at the outcome of a hearing judgment consistent with the provisions laid down in the Constitution in accordance with the due process of law.
The lawyers said the Liberian Constitution requires that an impeachment of a justice of the Supreme Court or judge of a subordinate court must be based on four grounds as required under Article 71 of the Constitution — proved misconduct, gross breach of duty, inability to perform the function of their office or conviction in a court of law for treason, bribery or other infamous crimes.
It was based on that argument that the lawyers prayed for the issuance of an Alternative Writ of Prohibition that was granted by Justice Yuoh, who was then Chambers Justice, and subsequently forwarded to the full bench of the Supreme Court for hearing and determination.
In counter-argument, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) that represents the House of Representatives contended that Ja’neh has not shown anywhere that the House of Representatives exceeded its jurisdiction. “The rule the Constitution requires is that the impeachment proceedings should comply with the process of law,” the MoJ said.
The MoJ again argued that the Supreme Court has no power and authority to restrain the House of Representatives, through the issuance of the Writ of Prohibition, from exercising its power and authority vested in that organ of government by the Constitution.
The Ministry also argued that Article 71 of the Constitution was not debatable because members of the Lower House were merely exercising the authority and power vested in that august body by the Constitution when it commenced impeachment proceedings against Justice Ja’neh.
Article 71 provides that, “The Chief Justice and Associates Justices of the Supreme Court and the judges of subordinate courts of record shall hold office during good behavior. They may be removed upon impeachment and conviction by the Legislature based on proved misconduct, gross breach of duty, inability to perform the functions of their office, or conviction in a court of law for treason, bribery or other infamous crimes.”
The MoJ maintains that impeachment is a matter over which the Constitution confers and vests jurisdiction in the House of Representatives. “This means that Ja’neh’s petition is nothing short of instigating an unnecessary confrontation between the Judiciary and the House of Representatives,” the MoJ said.