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.