Supreme Court Stays Ja’neh’s Impeachment Proceedings

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(From left) Justice in Chambers (Yuoh) versus Speaker Chambers: The Speaker noted strongly that the Supreme Court does not have constitutional jurisdiction over the Legislature when "preparing any bill".

The Supreme Court on yesterday ordered House Speaker Bhofal Chambers to place a hold on impeachment proceedings against Associate Justice Kabineh J’aneh until it had disposed of J’aneh’s Alternative Writ of Prohibition filed on his behalf by his lawyers.

Associate Justice Sie-A-Nyene Yuoh, who currently serves as Justice-in-Chambers has set August 18 to determine whether or not she would issue an ‘Alternative Writ of Prohibition’ as prayed for by Justice Ja’neh’s lawyer, Arthur Johnson, against his impeachment by the lawmakers.

Justice Yuoh’s action resulted when she accepted Ja’neh’s request for a Writ of Prohibition, preventing Chambers from proceeding with his impeachment.

If Justice Yuoh were to issue her writ, it means that the matter would now be sent to the full bench for determination.

It can be recalled that on Tuesday, July 17, the Bill of Impeachment Petition together with a motion proffered by Grand Kru County District #1 Representative Nathaniel Barway, received a favorable vote in the House of Representatives.

Shortly, afterward, Speaker Chambers set up an 8-man Ad-Hoc Committee to review and investigate the Impeachment Bill as well as write-up of the proceedings.

That committee was given three weeks, as of July 17, to begin work and report to Plenary.

The committee is chaired by Gbarpolu County District# 2 Representative Karnie Wesso and co-chaired by Bong County District #5 Rep. Edward Karfiah.

Others were Rep. Dickson Seboe of District 16, in Montserrado County; Rep. Jeremiah Koung of District #1, Nimba County; Rep. Dr. Isaac Roland of District 3, Maryland County; Rep. Clarence Gahr of District #5, Margibi County; and Rep. Rustonlyn S. Dennis of District#4, Montserrado County.

While awaiting the expiration of the three-week ultimatum for Speaker Chambers to start Justice Ja’neh’s impeachment debate, Justice Yuoh mandated them to stay all further proceedings in the matter.

“And all parties are ordered returned to status quo ante, pending the disposition of the Writ of Prohibition,” Yuoh’s order stated.

The unanswered question is whether Speaker Chambers will respect the decision of the Supreme Court. Further, will Justice J’aneh recuse himself from the proceedings before the Supreme Court should the matter go to the full Bench?

In July of this year, a petition signed by the acting chairman of the CDC in the House of Representatives for Montserrado County, Rep. Thomas P. Fallah of District #5, and Rep. Acarous Gray of District 8, a staunch member of the CDC, called for Justice Ja’neh’s impeachment.

In a communication to Speaker Chambers, the two CDC lawmakers argued that Justice Ja’neh should be impeached, ousted and removed from the Supreme Court of Liberia on grounds of “proven misconduct, abuse of public office, wanton abuse of judicial discretion, fraud, misuse of power and corruption.”

Fallah and Gray argued that their decision is supported by Article 71 of the Constitution which stipulates “that the Chief Justice and Associate 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.”

There is an instance, however, of legislators unsuccessfully calling for the impeachment of justices.

One of such was demonstrated in 2017 when some aggrieved lawmakers headed by Senators Dan Morais, Maryland, Peter Coleman, Grand Kru and James Tornola of Margibi County, were forced to abandon their impeachment drive against embattled Justice Ja’neh and two other Associate Justices, Jamesetta Howard Wolokollie and Philip A.Z. Banks, now retired, for reasons related to the decision on the controversial Code of Conduct (CoC).

They backed-off from the impeachment drive due to the intervention from multiple stakeholders that included religious and traditional leaders, and the United Nations.

The lawmakers argued then that in March 2017, the Justices ruled that the Code of Conduct was legal and binding for all its intent and purpose.

Unfortunately, in July of that year, Justices, the lawmakers claimed, ruled and overturned the disbarment of the Vice Standard Bearer of the opposition Liberty Party, Harrison Karnwea from participating in the October elections by the National Elections Commission or NEC. Karnwea was said to be in violation of the CoC.

Like Ja’neh, Chea Cheapoo, Sr., a Liberian politician who served as the 15th Chief Justice from July 1987, was the first Justice of the Court to be impeached in Liberia’s history.

Following the resignation of Chief Justice James N. Nagbe in June 1987, Cheapoo was appointed by President Samuel Doe as Chief Justice.

Soon after taking office, he was accused of illegally ordering the arrest of a probate judge and his wife, Harper S. Bailey and Muna Stubblefield, whom he stated had tried to bribe him with $2,000.

Amid the resulting controversy, he accused then President Samuel K. Doe of unconstitutionally releasing the couple in question, but he submitted to President Doe his resignation on 10 November 1987.

Doe rejected it and called for him to be punished with his removal from office. Cheapoo was then subsequently convicted by the Senate and impeached accordingly on December 2, 1987 on charges of violating the Constitution while in office.  The vote was nearly unanimous; only David Menyongai of Margibi County voted to acquit.

What is judicial impeachment?

Impeachment is a process by which the political branches of government – usually the legislature – can remove judges from office. Because the impeachment power lies primarily in the hands of politicians, it is at times threatened for partisan reasons, but the impeachment and removal of judges is in fact rare and usually limited to grave ethical or criminal misconduct such as perjury, fraud, or conflicts of interest.

The Constitution provides little guidance as to what offenses constitute grounds for the impeachment of justices and judges: as with other government officials, judges may be removed following impeachment and conviction for “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanor.”

The power to impeach rests solely in the Legislature and it begins with a Bill of Impeachment from the House of Representatives. The Bill is then tried by the Senate to determine, based on Constitutional provisions. whether there are indeed sufficient grounds for Impeachment.

Accordingly, the House of Representatives has the power to impeach, and the Senate the power to hold a trial to determine whether removal is appropriate. However, a judge may only be removed from office following a trial and a vote to convict by a two-thirds majority vote of the Senate.

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17 COMMENTS

  1. This is a very weird situation in which the Supreme Court is interfering into the work of the legislature to prevent it from impeaching a member of the court. Under our constitution, does the Supreme Court have the power to stop legislative proceedings of the legislative branch of government because such proceedings is directed at the court? I’m not so sure. This is new territory in our democratic dispensation.

    • A case was brought before the Court, and the constitutionality of the charges. In order for the Supreme Court to handle the case properly brought before it by lawyers of the accused, Associate Justice, it is important that all proceedings stop and all those involved appear before the High Court as requested. Remember, let justice be done to every one . Including the right to be heard before the Court. Your qu

      • Your question explained why there are too many Liberians serving prolonged detention . Some serving for more than three years, cause there is no court to hear their case. The House is about to charge the Justice and impeach him. Sending his case to the Senate to be tried. Is he then entitled to an appeal, yes. The law provides that right to all Liberians . Especially the wealthy Liberians . As for the poor Liberians , it is prolonged detention . 75% of that country’s prisoners are prolonged detainees for manner offensive.

      • Mr. Davis, Impeachment is a charge by THE HOUSE and not a conviction. That charge may become a conviction if or when the impeached official has been tried or prosecuted by THE SENATE and found guilty, and ultimately removed from office. That conviction is NON-APPEALABLE!

        The Supreme Court’s power of judicial review has “gone to the heads” of these judges of the Supreme Court, to the extent they no more remember THE LIMITATIONS TO JUDICIAL REVIEW.

        These unscrupulous stooges of the past must be teemed and disciplined, for by all implications and indications, these once upon a time stooges have all of a sudden begining to see themselves as demi- gods to the extent that they have no regard for the non-encroachment principle. THEY MUST BE STOPPED, AND STOPPED THEY MUST BE STOPPED FORTHWITH AND NOW!!!

  2. Seemingly, the justices would loyally rally around their colleague under the solidarity banner of Independence of the Judiciary, constitutionally-mandated Separation of Powers, and so on.

    That position, as Daily Observer’s Counselor Best ably explained elsewhere, is germane in a judicial decision or opinion like, for example, Justice Janeh’s lone dissent against the yes-vote of the bench for a run-off election. On the other hand, when a Supreme Court justice boldly becomes private beneficiary of his own decision, it raises grave ethical questions for a Supreme Court that has practically lost the trust and confidence of the public.

    The question, then, becomes – though they might have their own individual skeletons – in this case of a 92 years old appellant, are the rest of our justices ready to throw themselves on their swords for Justice Janeh regardless of the risks to the court’s reputation? That’s the question, folks.

    • Mr. Moses, they so called justices can rally all they can including even the unborn; but the constitutional fact remains that, THE LEGISLATURE is in reality and practice their boss institutionalized as evidenced in a nutshell where unlike the Judiciary or the Supreme Court which has fundanentally only the three major powers of: (1)interpreting the Legisature’s laws, (2) declaring the legislature’s laws unconstitutional, and lastly,(3) declaring presidential actions unconstitutional; THE LEGISLATURE CALLS THE SHOTS AND HAS THE ACTUAL FINAL SAYING! That is THE LEGISLATURE HAS EIGHT MAJOR POWERS which includes:

      (1) impeaching and removing judges
      (2) refusing to confirm judicial appointments
      (3) rewrite laws to override Supreme Court’s and subordinate court’s interpretations and its legislation
      (4) override presidential vetoes of its laws
      (5) reduce or eliminate funds for presidential programs
      (6) impeach and remove the president
      (7) refuse to approve presudential appointments and treaties, and
      (8) propose constitutional amendments.

      So, they can dance around the perper tree as long as they want, but they can never ever climb that perper tree which is attempting to ipso facto their ignorance, or pretense, exercise any powers CONSTITUTIONALLY AND ABSOLUTELY RESERVED FOR THE LEGISLATURE.

  3. Phil. If the Liberia’s Constitution is modeled after that of the U.S., then the answer to your question is no. The Supreme Court has no jurisdiction in this. Remember, because the Legislature is a political institution, decisions it makes may be politically motivated. That’s one reason there’s a two prong steps. First, is to impeach by a simple majority of the House based on any number of reasons the House Members believe meet the constitutional test for removal, even if political. That’s why they need a majority. There’s a responsibility on these members to consider the enormous importance of their decision and that the facts should be of immense grave ethical and moral breach by the Justice. The second step is a former trial by the Senate, where there are hearings and facts are presented, with consideration given to the magnitude of the decision. It will then require a two third majority of the Senate to remove him based on a conviction from the trial. These are steps that are clearly defined for the appropriate branch of the government. If during the Senate trial, the Senate violates the procedures and their constitutional authority that led to a conviction, then there’s a reasonable justification for a motion to the Supreme Court, because it has the final authority in interpreting the Constitution. This exe ante action by Lawyers to the Court that led to the Stay order is premature and had this been in the U.S. it would’ve created a constitutional crises. The House Members have no constitutional obligation to explain to the court, unless that’s required by the Liberian’s Constitution.

    I have been adamant in prior comments that I have not read of anything that have risen to the level that warrants impeachment or removal. Every story I have read on the accused Justice have been in the exercise of his role as a judge. That would include decision in his favor on the land deal by the bench. It doesn’t matter whether he sat in on the case. There’s no evidence that he knowingly conspire with the seller to defraud the rightful heir of her land. I had suggested that if new evidence not available at the time of the original decision (e.g., the rightful owner was still alive with valid ownership document like the deed or Will), motion the court for a rehearing based on this evidence.

    I admonish leaders, both in the government and autonomous agencies to first ascertain the facts, review them against written laws and case laws, and determine the impact of various decisions on the body politics and the goal of improving the country’s image internationally before stepping out into the public square with an action plan that can easily create confusion and undermine democratic principles.

  4. As I stated earlier, if the constitutional provisions for impeachment are modeled after that of the U.S., the Speaker of the House should reply the Justice in-Chambers that the court simply does not have jurisdiction to determine the constitutionality of the House impeachment proceedings, and the court has no constitutional authority to issue a writ of prohibition against the House in carrying out proceedings that fall within the exclusive jurisdiction of the House as to the process taken and definition the House chooses to ascribe to each of the accusations against the accused Justice. The Court’s action suggests it has authority over the House in this matter. This is a hearing outside the formal judicial branch. The Constitution is clear in granting the House the exclusive authority for impeachment proceedings, even if for political reasons that would be difficult to prove. If the House proceeds and impeach, the Senate would then hold a trial that considers the legal justifications for removal. At this point the rights of the accused are protected beyond political reasons. The Senate serves as both the jury and judge, requiring a two thirds vote for removal. This could create a constitutional crises here if the Senate reaches a conviction that violates its own procedures and constitutional guidelines for the hearings. Since this would be venturing into new territory constitutionally, even from a U.S. legal perspective you could have legal arguments on both sides on whether the Supreme Court can at this point review the procedures of the Senate and whether the Senate failed in executing its legal obligations when it deviated from the trial procedures. My believe is no. This is why a two-thirds majority is required. I believe the Senate will protect the integrity of the institution and not remove, as they hear the evidence. There are others though who would agree that the Court would have the right to intervene and declare the trial a violation of the Legislature’s authority under the check and balance provision of the Constitution, and the court would be relying on its authority to interpret the law and not so much as to make a determination in this trial, since it has no jurisdiction over the trial itself.
    This trial is another test for these two branches of government. The Speaker of the House may choose to follow the court order to avoid a potential crises, or exercise his and the House constitutional authority and proceed with the hearing, with a simple response to the Justice in-Chambers as suggested in my comment. I’m excited to see how it proceeds. Certainly, the nation seems to have a very activist judiciary and that’s a good thing. It’s important that its indepence is protected, even if we have few hiccups for now. There’s a pending case involving the Executive Branch and now a potential case with the Legislative Branch, by the one Branch that was always the weakest link in the nation’s history. I believe this will lead to the tampering of the authoritarian tendency of those who become Presidents of Liberia. I am also hopeful that the nation move to life time appointment for Supreme Court, Circuit Court and Superior Court and District Court Judges.

  5. As we have always said, we have these half-baked lawyers who besides lacking the experience of a judge were appointed as justices of the current/incumbent Supreme Court. And we are referring to all of the current or incumbent members of the Supreme Court, including the CJ Korkpor and Philip Banks who just retired.

    If this half-baked so called justice in chamber knew any better, she would acknowledge that THE MADISON THEORY OF SEPARATION OF POWERS AND THE DOCTRINE OF CHECKS AND BALANCES WORKS BECAUSE EACH BRANCH HAS THE CONSTITUTIONAL MEANS AND PERSONAL MOTIVES TO RESIST ENCROACHMENTS OF THE OTHERS – AN AVOIDABLE ENCROAHCHMENT NOW BEEN CONTEMTUOUSLY COMMITTED BY THIS SO CALLED JUSTICE IN CHAMBERS.

    This girl in her ignorance and very disrespectful encriachment against the legislature which has the cobstitutional rights, authority, and powers, to impeach and remove judges of subordinate courts, and justices of the Supreme Court, fails to realize THE LIMITATIONS OF THE SUPREME COURTS JUDICIAL REVIEW PIWERS WHICH ARE (1) the live controversy rule (2) the standing to sue doctrine, (3) the doctrine of pilitical questions, and (4) the rules of constitutional interpretation.

    Scrutinizing the impeachment indictment against Mr. Justice Kabineh Janeh and also these limitations on the judicial review powers of the Liberian Supreme Court, we have pointed out supra, one easily sees that Justice Yuoh has not only committed the offense of encroachment against THE LEGISLATURE, but she has simply gone ultra vires (gone beyond her powers) and floutingly violated:

    (1)The Live Controversy Rule, and the standing to sue rule which inter alia or for example states the court will only hear a case if it involves a real conflict between real adversaries, or to sue, one must show the government action they want to chalkenge in court injures them personalky, or as stipulated in the constitution under judicial powers which empowers the Court to hear only cases and controversies; not to talk about the fact that the impeachment of judges is THE SINGUAR PREROGATIVE OF THE LEGISLATURE AND NOT OF ANY OTHER BRANCH OF GOVERNMENT. Hence:

    (2) neither Justice Janeh nor his lawyers have any standing to sue or complain to the Supreme Court!!! For impeachment proceedings are above the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court as made clear under the Liberian Constution. THIS GIRL HAS SIMPLY GONE ULTRA VIRES (gone beyond the powers of the Suoreme Court)!

  6. @Dortu-Siboe Doe , I think your knowledge in constitutional law is very narrow. There is no encroachment in this case. This particular case is purely on the perview of the Supreme Court. Your argument has no validative and it is out of wack. If you are supposedly a JD holder, I admonish you to do a research on what makes the Supreme Court Supreme. Go FIGURE !

    • Kafumba, if someone who went to law school and even praticed as a lawyer, and now sitting as a Supreme Court’s judge (Judge Youh) has displayed so recklessly as some layman or justice of the peace who stopped in today’s 6th grade, what should anyone with THE MASTERSHIP OF THE JUDICIAL PROCESS as Dortu-Siboe Doe expect from a Kafumba Swarry who has no idea about common elementary civics, not to talk about the structures and process of the judiciary!!??

  7. Kafumba, if someone who went to law school and even praticed as a lawyer, and now sitting as a Supreme Court’s judge (Judge Youh) has displayed so recklessly as some layman or justice of the peace who stopped in today’s 6th grade, what should anyone with THE MASTERSHIP OF THE JUDICIAL PROCESS as Dortu-Siboe Doe expect from a Kafumba Swarry who has no idea about common elementary civics, not to talk about the structures and process of the judiciary!!??

    • This so-called Dortu-Siboe Doe man makes mockery of the law by his usual fraudulent interpretation of the law as it ought to be. Such a shyster should be barred from practicing law anywhere, especially in places like Liberia, where he could easily prey on innocent clients.

  8. @Phil George , to answer your question. I would say yes the Supreme Court has the right to interfered. This case is clearly under the purview of the Supreme Court. Because, if some weird senators argue for an impeachment hearing against a Supreme Court justice without sufficient evidence or preponderance of evidence than the Supreme Court has the absolute right to say what the law is.
    To get a comprehensive understanding of my claim, read paragraph 27 of the above article.

  9. @ Dortu- Siboe Doe, read between the lines carefully. But anyway , your poor judgement and low level of comprehension cast a significant doubt on your credential. SO CALLED “MASTER SHIP”

  10. All. Actually, the Supreme Court can’t. It can however determine after the Senate’s trial and decision, whether the Senate followed its own rules and procedures in conducting the trial under a due process clause. It has no authority to review the legality of those rules and procedures. The Senate is authorize to determine their own rules and procedures on impeachment proceedings.

    In the U.S., the Supreme Court had ruled on this question before, saying they can’t make rule against any impeachment process as long as the Senate followed their rules. So, it’s premature to challenge the Legislative process when it has not reached the stage that allows the Court to determine if the trial procedures were followed. The Court has no Constitutional authority to determine the legality of the House’ rule making process and procedures. The House has the exclusive authority to determine it’s own processes for how it conducts its exclusive constitutional authority as it relates to impeachment, even accusing members have political, moral, or religious reasons for doing so. Their procedures are not subject to due process review. It’s not a trial. The accused Justice can be impeached and still not removed from office.The only remedy for any accused is dependence on the integrity of the House members, who are held accountable by the voters, that they will do what’s right.

    Even after the Senate’s trial, the only challenge available is whether the Senate followed its own procedures and process for the trial. If it does, the court can’t review the trial and decision.

    I don’t understand why the Justice in-Chambers believed the Court has authority to stay a Legislative process from a writ of prohibition. There’s no provision for that action in the Constitution or case laws. The Court is practically declaring itself superior to the Legislative Branch. Why make a decision that could trigger a constitutional crises?

  11. This case is really serious in that you don’t know what to believe. I’m saying this to say that during the war many people sold their property to survive. I remembered during the early days of the war, I attended New Year Sunday service at the First United Methodist Church on Ashmun Street. During that service,bishop Kulah, who was the presiding bishop at the time ,admonished the congregation who had property and wanted to sell because they were leaving the country shouldn’t do so, instead, he wanted them to talk to the church,so similar things like this wouldn’t happen. People were desperate,frighten. and vulnerable. I had relatives who sold property to give them something to start with especially in a strange land.

    It’s possible this boy/man sold the house to help support his elderly mother; he didn’t think she would have made it back home. His mom is 90 or in her 90s, during that time she may have been in her 70s, and acted as legal authority on her behalf. I don’t think he alone spend/ate that money. On the other hand, Justice Ja’neh in his right mind would not gave his hard earned money to a crazed man/person.The facts need to come out,and let this case be resolve in an amicable manner. Life is too short, let’s do the right thing by our fellow man.

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