The Justice Minister and Attorney General, Cllr. Christiana P. Tah, has been suspended from practicing law within Liberia for six months.
Cllr. Beyan D. Howard, Sieh’s lead defense lawyer was also declared barred—for three months—from practicing law.
The two were held in contempt for disrespecting the Supreme Court of Liberia by allowing FrontPage Africa’s managing editor, Rodney D. Sieh, a ‘Compassionate Leave’ from prison to seek medical attention—as prayed for by Mr. Sieh’s attorneys.
Delivering the Supreme Court’s opinion on Friday, January 10, Chief Justice Francis S. Korkpor said that, “after carefully reviewing the records, hearing the arguments and contentions advanced by the counsels representing the parties and considering the laws relied upon, the Court pronounced co-respondent Christiana P. Tah, Minister of Justice and Attorney General, hereby suspended from the practice of law in the Republic of Liberia directly or indirectly for a period of six months.”
The contempt proceedings and findings stemmed from “…her role in releasing Rodney D. Sieh from prison as well as, her persistent affront to this court, demonstrated by her refusal to reverse the action, which formed the basis for the contempt proceedings.
“While, for his role played in the release of Rodney D. Sieh from prison, Counselor Beyan Howard is suspended from the practice of law directly and indirectly for a period of three (3) months,” the Chief Jusice further ruled.
Unlike the Court’s explanation regarding Justice Minister Tah, the Court only referenced a ‘role’ played by Cllr. Beyan Howard ; it did not say what he had done that was contemptuous.
Absent as to what aspect of the role Cllr. Howard played that the Court had considered contemptuous, we are left with little more to inform the public than the fact (as has been reported) that Cllr. Howard had prayed the Justice Minister to grant his client the controversial ‘Compassion Leave’ that the Justice Minister believed had sufficient basis in law, to grant.
Cllr. Howard’s appeal for the ‘Compassionate Leave,’ along with Minister Tah’s decision to cooperate, were described by the Court as “…contempt against the Judiciary.”
Minster Tah had relied on Section 34.20 of the Criminal Procedure Law of Liberia and released Mr. Sieh from further detention at the Monrovia Central Prison, where he had fallen ill while imprisoned there after the Court remanded (sent prisoner to custody) him there for ‘contempt’ of court in connection with the case in which former Agriculture minister Dr. J. Chris Toe sued Sieh and the Frontpage Africa newspaper for libel. After a heated legal battle that brought much international attention, Sieh finally apologized to Dr. Toe in an October 13, 2013 letter. The apology fulfilled the plaintiff’s requirement in order to forgive the US$1.5 million fine levied by the Court against Sieh and secured the defendant’s release from prison.
But it was that very law that Justice Minister Tah—and, according to the Court, her codefendant, and partner in contemptible behavior, Cllr. Howard, had relied on. The Court thought otherwise:
“Their actions were not in consonance with Section 34.20 of the Criminal Procedure Law of Liberia.” The Chief Justice stressed, “It was instead deliberately intended to proceed through the Executive Branch of Government and release a prisoner who had been imprisoned for contempt of court without any reference to the judiciary.”
‘That is in utter violation of the doctrine of separation of powers as enshrined in our Constitution. Their actions are therefore punishable as such,” Chief Justice Korkpor declared.
The Clerk of this Court is hereby ordered to communicate with the respondents, informing them of the judgment of this Court. “And it is so ordered,” Chief Justice Korkpor instructed.
Prior to hearing of the contempt case, Cllr. T. Negbelee Warner, Cllr. Cyril Jones and Cllr. David A. B. Jallah appeared as “Amici Curiae” meaning Friends of the Court, while Cllr. Betty Lamin-Blamo, solicitor General and Cllr. M. Wilkins Wright , former Solicitor-General appeared for co-respondent Christiana P. Tah, Minister of Justice and Attorney General.
Cllr. Alexander B. Zoe and Cllr. J. Lavela Supuwood appeared for co-respondent Cllr. Beyan D. Howard.
(With an assist from Keith Neville A. Best)