-Speaker Chambers replies Chief Justice Korkpor on Ja’neh’s impeachment
What was expected to be a reconciliation hearing between the Supreme Court and lawmakers from the Lower House about a decision to impeach Associate Justice Kabineh Ja’neh on yesterday, August 22, turned confrontational when the lawmakers wrote the High Court to “vacate the purported stay order and avoid embarrassment.”
The August 18 stay ordered was imposed by Associate Justice Sie-A-Nyene G. Yuoh, current Chamber Justice against some members of the House of Representative that include Speaker Bhofal Chambers, to desist from any proceedings about Ja’neh’s impeachment pending the outcome of the justice’s complaint of constitutional violation by the Full Bench of the Supreme Court.
To make their invitation more formal, the Court, on August 20, again wrote Speaker Chambers and the leadership of the House of Representatives to respond and subsequently mandated the lawmakers to appear before them on Wednesday, August 22, for an argument on the merit of the stay order.
At yesterday’s hearing, the House of Representatives did not show up as anticipated; they simply replied, speaking against the backdrop of the Supreme Court’s mandate and informing the justices, including Chief Justice Francis Saye Korkpor, that Yuoh’s stay order violates Articles, 3, 42 and 43 of the Constitution.
A copy of the lawmakers’ letter, which has been obtained by the Daily Observer, references the “Purported Writ,” dated on August 18 and under the signature of Mildred N. Sayon, chief clerk of the House of Representatives, and subsequently addressed to Chamber Justice Yuoh, reads: “I present compliments and by directive of the Plenary of the House of Representatives of the 54th Legislature (in Session), have the honor to inform you that it is in possession of a paper served on it entitled, Writ of Prohibition by Justice-in-Chambers Sie-A-Nyene G. Yuoh.”
The communication further says, “The Plenary of the House of Representatives has instructed me to inform you for reasons set out below, that the House of Representatives does not intend to honor the terms or conditions of the writ.”
It continues, “The House thinks that the writ violates Article 3, separation of power clause, Article 42, immunity clause, Article 43, impeachment power, and a long-term of cases and precedence in this jurisdiction and its progeny.”
In conclusion, the communication warned that, “You are therefore advised in the interest of our constitutional democracy and consistent with the separation of powers and checks and balances to vacate this writ and avoid embarrassment to the sacred institution of the Supreme Court.”
Justice Yuoh’s stay order, which is at the center of the lawmakers’ letter, directed that, “And all parties are ordered returned to status quo ante, pending the disposition of the Writ of Prohibition.”
Her action was prompted by a request from one of Ja’neh’s lawyers, Arthur Johnson, who prayed for her to issue an “Alternative Writ of Prohibition,” preventing the lawmakers from proceeding further with Ja’neh’s impeachment, which she did.
Article 3, separation of power clause, states that, “Liberia is a unitary sovereign state divided into counties for administrative purposes. The form of government is Republican with three separate but coordinating branches: the Legislature, the Executive and Judiciary. Consistent with the principles of separation of powers and checks and balances, no person holding office in one of these branches shall hold office in or exercise any of the powers assigned to either of the other two branches except as otherwise provided in this Constitution; and no person holding office in one of the said branches shall serve on any autonomous public agency.
Article 42 also provides that, “No member of the Senate or House of Representatives shall be arrested, detained, prosecuted or tried as a result of opinions expressed or votes cast in the exercise of the functions of his office. Members shall be privileged from arrest while attending, going to or returning from sessions of the Legislature, except for treason, felony or breach of the peace. All official acts done or performed and all statement made in the Chambers of the Legislature shall be privileged, and no Legislator shall be held accountable or punished thereof.”
While Article 43 went on, “The power to prepare a bill of impeachment is vested solely in the House of Representatives, and the power to try all impeachments is vested solely in the Senate. When the President, Vice President or an Associate Justice is to be tried, the Chief Justice shall preside; when the Chief Justice or a judge of a subordinate court of record is to be tried, the President of the Senate shall preside. No person shall be impeached but by the concurrence of two-thirds of the total membership of the Senate. Judgements in such cases shall not extend beyond removal from office and disqualification to hold public office in the Republic; but the party may be tried at law for the same offense. The Legislature shall prescribe the procedure for impeachment proceedings which shall be in conformity with the requirements of due process of law.”
Despite the lawmakers’ refusal to attend yesterday’s hearing, Chief Justice Francis Korkpor and his colleagues, excluding the embattled Justice Ja’neh, who had openly announced his recusal from the bench for that case, proceeded with the matter, with him being represented by a team of lawyers.
In response to the lawmakers’ communication, Chief Justice Korkpor was heard carefully telling colleagues at the Bench that, “We are taking keen note of the letter.”
Besides, the chief justice informed the jam-packed court that because of the sensitive nature of the issue raised by the lawmakers over the impeachment of one of them, they resolved to invite the Ministry of Justice, that is the legal arm of the Executive, to provide the defense of the law.
“The ministry is not a party to the case, but we have included them in defense of the law,” Korkpor clarified, citing the involvement of the ministry. He later postponed his brief hearing shortly after Cllr. James E. Pierre, the lead lawyer for Justice Ja’neh, informed the court that they could not file all of their legal documents to set the stage for hearing into their request for a Writ of Prohibition, because they could not cope with the time the court requested them to submit those instruments.
Cllr. Pierre meanwhile asked for additional week to prepare for the hearing into the writ because, according to him, the issue raised by the lawmakers contained serious study, and they need enough time to file a well-researched defense for Justice Ja’neh.
Likewise, Solicitor General Daku Mulbah, who represented the ministry, also expressed similar request for the postponement of the matter for additional week to enable them file their legal document that would be in defense of the law in the way of the impeachment proceedings by lawyers representing Justice Ja’neh.
Besides Cllr. Pierre, Ja’neh’s other lawyers, during yesterday’s hearing, were Cllrs. Koiboi Johnson, Arthur Johnson (no relationship) and Amara Sheriff.
It can be recalled that on Tuesday, July 17, 2018, 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 the write-up of the proceedings.
That committee was given three weeks as of July 17, 2018, 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 Representative Edward Karfiah.
Others were Representatives Dickson Seboe of District 16, Montserrado County; Jeremiah Koung of District #1, Nimba County; Dr. Isaac Roland of District 3, Maryland County; Clarence Gahr of District #5, Margibi County, and 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.