One of the key principles of the Liberian judicial system is that the judge who presides over a case must be fair and impartial. In the vast majority of cases, the issue of the judge’s fairness and impartiality never comes up. There are instances, however, when one of the parties in a civil case has reason to believe that the judge cannot be fair and impartial. Sometimes the judge recognizes his or her own inability to maintain partial. In those situations, the judge will either recuse himself or herself or the litigant will move to have the judge disqualified from presiding over the case.
However, when she delivered her addressed on Monday, August 10, at the opening of Criminal Courts, A, B, C, D and E, Associate Justice Jamesetta Wolokollie openly frowned on journalists who had been reporting on the ongoing investigation of the withdrawal of over US$3 million out of the frozen Ducor Petroleum account housed at the Liberia Bank for Development and Investment (LBDI). Interestingly, if any of the parties after the investigation being carried out by the Judiciary Inquiry Commission (JIC), headed by another Associate Justice Yussif Kaba, rejects the Commission’s recommendation and files an appeal before the justices of the Supreme Court, it is then that the justices, including Justice Wolokollie, will preside over the appeal to come down with a determination or final judgment that cannot be challenged.
The money was allegedly withdrawn when a communication dated July 22, 2013 addressed to the Commercial Court at the Temple of Justice of which a party to the ownership of the disputed Ducor Petroleum Inc accused the court of issuing an order that allowed the bank to pay the money to the other party.
The Judicial Inquiry Commission is an auxiliary established within the Judiciary Branch of the Liberian government with the exclusive power and authority to receive and investigate complaint against judges of courts of record and non-record in the Republic of Liberia for violation of any provision of the Judicial Canons. The Judicial Canons are intended to establish standards for ethical conduct of judges. They are rules for all judges to uphold and promote the independence, integrity and impartiality of the Judiciary and to avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety. Moreover, judges must perform the duties of judicial office impartially, competently, and diligently.
The Chief Justice has the power to appoint members of the Commission. In appointing members of the Commission, the Chief Justice appoints an Associate Justice to serve as Chair, while the Chairperson of the Grievance and Ethics Committee serves as the Secretary of the Commission. Whenever an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court is involved in the violation of any provision of the Judicial Canons, two Associate Justices are appointed by the Chief Justice to join him to constitute the Commission.
Being aware that the matter is still pending with the Justice Kaba’s commission, Associate Justice Wolokollie was heard saying during her deliberation that: “Lately the media has been on the Commercial Court Judge; they been talking about every time that there is different amount.
“They have been writing about different amounts — one million, two million, sometimes three million. I don’t know how much of it. Even as a media person when you hear about this kind of issue and when you heard about me come to me and ask and say that you have done so and so. Let the judge say to you if it is true or not and you hear her side. Then you can write the story. But, you people the media are spreading bad reputation about the judiciary that is making [people] not to have any confidence about the judiciary,” Justice Wolokollie was heard telling her audience that include judges and lawyers.
“Our society is gullible and so everybody in government is perceived as being corrupt. You say the justices are corrupt and you write the story without getting their side.”
The ownership dispute that led to the court action resulted when a Belgium national, Charles Carron, accused his then general manager, Amos Brousia, of allegedly stealing money realized from sales of petroleum products of the Monrovia Oil Trading Company to establish the Ducor Petroleum Inc, making him, Carron, the rightful owner of the Ducor Petroleum Inc. It is the accusation that Brousia rejected, thus leaving Carron to seek the court’s action that caused the Commercial Court at the Temple of Justice to place the order on the financial transactions of the Ducor Petroleum Inc. at the LBDI. In the court order dated July 15, 2013, a copy of which is in the possession of the Daily Observer, which the Commercial Court requested the bank to receive and deposit into account number 0221215153401, belonging to Ducor Petroleum Inc. and also ordered that any and all transactions pertaining to the the account, especially deposits, withdrawals and checks, be stayed except deposits and withdrawals approved by the court and accompanied by a letter signed by the court; Brousia is claiming that without his knowledge the court instructed Carron to have access to the account, which subsequently led to the withdrawal of the money out of the disputed Ducor Petroleum Inc account.
The document prompting the withdrawal and investigation, dated July 22, 2013, is said to have been written by Carron and endorsed by the court. The letter said, “The stay order contained in the July 15, 2013 letter is adversely affecting ongoing operations of the Ducor Petroleum Inc. and it is a growing concern because the subject account at the LBDI is the principal account of the Ducor Petroleum Inc, established by all shareholders and is therefore not a subject of any dispute.” The letter further claims that since the suspension of Brousia as general manager and the appointment of the new management team headed by Carron, the subject bank account has therefore been used by the new management team to continue the business and normal operation of Ducor Petroleum openly and transparently, including funding the supply of petroleum products to customers and receiving checks in payment of products supplied on an ongoing basis.
“Unfortunately, the imposition and continuation of the stay order cannot permit any of the transactions required to continue the operation of the Ducor Petroleum Inc, because it effectively prevents deposit checks and withdrawal of money deposited into my Ducor Petroleum Account prior to the July 15, 2013 letter which is not the subject of dispute,” said Charles Carron in his letter. “Therefore, we request that the court kindly modify the July 15, 2013 communication and give due consideration to this request in order to return the operation of the account at least to its status quo immediately prior to the July 15, 2013 letter.” This is the communication that is currently being investigated to establish who wrote and how did the bank release the money and under whose authorization.