Will the Supreme Court pardon Cllr. Arthur Johnson for wasting the Court’s time?
It appears as though the same wrath of the Supreme Court that Cllr. Arthur Johnson was trying to avoid by withdrawing from the case of his client, Isaac W. Jackson, Liberia’s Permanent Representative to the International Maritime Authority, may just catch up with him due to his procedural negligence in dropping his client.
Justices of the Supreme Court on Wednesday, January 15, could not proceed into the merit of the case regarding the appointment of Deputy Commissioner and Permanent Representative to the International Maritime Organization (IMO) in London, United Kingdom, the position Isaac Jackson currently occupies.
This stems from the absence of Cllr. Arthur Johnson, Jackson’s lead lawyer, at yesterday’s hearing that was expected to establish the basis for the concussion of the appointment’ saga by the Supreme Court, which Cllr. Johnson failed to attend.
It can be recalled that former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf in 2016 appointed Mr. Jackson to the position. However, on June 19, 2018, President George Manneh Weah appointed Moses Owen Browne, former public relations officer at the Civil Service Agency (CSA), to replace Jackson, which appointment Cllr. Johnson accused President Weah of being in violation of the Constitution.
Cllr. Johnson has since been offered a lucrative job by the government at the Investigation, Restitution, and Assets Recovery Team (IRRT), where he serves as a lead prosecutor.
Though, Cllr. Johnson wrote Jackson about his legal withdrawal from the case, he failed to inform justices of the Supreme Court.
Disappointingly, at Wednesday’s hearing, the justices were heard saying that there was no documentation or notice of withdrawal of Cllr. Johnson as Jackson’s lawyer as required by a lawyer.
Even though the justices did not say what next step they would take against Johnson during Wednesday’s deliberation, they later adjourned the matter without any date to resume.
Shortly after the justices’ deliberation on Wednesday, a senior Supreme Court lawyer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said even where withdrawal is mandatory, an attorney must first seek and obtain the court’s permission before ending representation in the middle of a case, which Cllr. Johnson, according to the justices, failed to do.
“While a court will usually be sympathetic to the plight of an attorney faced with circumstances requiring or permitting withdrawal, permission to immediately withdraw may not be granted if: the facts giving rise to the withdrawal request are in dispute, or withdrawal would materially prejudice the client’s ability to litigate the case,” the lawyer explained.
The legal expert continued that, in such circumstances, the court might hold an evidentiary hearing on the disputed factual issues before making a ruling on the attorney’s withdrawal request.
He added, “And, in most situations where the withdrawal request is granted, the court will give the client a reasonable amount of time to find a new counsel.”
It can also be recalled that Cllr. Arthur Johnson, in his withdrawal letter to Jackson, said: “My withdrawal from the case stems from the fact of your media appearances both in electronic and print, preempting and predicting the ruling of the Supreme Court and, at the same time, calling the High Court Chief Justice, Francis Korkpor and Supreme Court into public ridicule.”
It continues, “As you are aware of this publication made by you in the Front Page Newspaper, Vol. 13, NO.071, Monday, April 22, 2019, with the story “Liberia IMO REP Vents Anger at Supreme Court Chief Justice Francis Korkpor ‘MY BLOOD WILL BE ON HIS HANDS’”, it undermines the integrity and dignity of the Highest Court and places it into disrepute.”
“As a lawyer before the High Court, I cannot continue to represent a client whose actions disrespect the court. It will show an appearance that I am in support of your action against the Supreme Court Chief Justice,” the letter noted. Moreover, “you were advised to stay away from the press during our last conversations. Doing this threatens my career as a lawyer because I am not a Politician, but rather a lawyer.”
“As a Counselor-At-Law and member of the Honorable Supreme Court of Liberia, I am prohibited from supporting any act that undermines the dignity, credibility, and integrity of the Honorable Supreme Court of Liberia, and that is to say all Justices of the Supreme Court of Liberia,” the letter said.
“In view of the above, please accept this withdrawal without any prejudice but for ethical reasons as contained in the Code of Moral and Ethical Conduct of Lawyers,” the communication concluded.