His Honor Johnny N. Lewis, who served as Chief Justice of Liberia from 2006 to 2013, died at about 5 p.m. yesterday in Monrovia, following a protracted illness. He was 69.
Before his demise, he was rushed to the John F. Kennedy Medical Center in Sinkor where he died.
Shortly following his predecessor’s demise, Chief Justice Francis Korkpor arrived at the Samuel Stryker Funeral Parlor, where he met with the family of the late former CJ Lewis.
Before being chosen by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as her first Chief Justice, Counselor Lewis served for many years as a legal advisor in the United Nations system in several parts of the world.
Like his father, Cllr. Roderick N. Lewis, Cllr. Johnny Lewis served as a Circuit Judge and also became Dean of the Louis Arthur Grimes School of Law of the University of Liberia. As Dean, he succeeded his former student, Cllr. Phillip A.Z. Banks, who served in that capacity from 1981 to 1984. Many of today’s practicing lawyers studied under Cllr. Johnny Lewis.
His Honor Phillip Banks, in a brief interview with this newspaper last night, described the late former Chief Justice as “a very brilliant man.” According to His Honor Banks, Johnny Lewis authored several law books, including one on Estates and Trusts and another on Criminal Law. He later revised those texts.
Unfortunately however, these texts are not being taught in the Louis Arthur Grimes School of Law. Instead, the School is still using American texts for unknown reasons.
After taking his law degree from Louis Arthur Grimes, Johnny Lewis matriculated to the Yale Law School, Yale University, one of America’s most prestigious institutions of higher learning. Other leading Liberian lawyers who followed him there are Associate Justice Phillip A.Z. Banks, who is currently Justice in Chambers, and Counselor Christiana P. Tah, former Minister of Justice.
Counselor Lewis was born on April 16, 1946 in Greenville, Sinoe County. He hailed from one of the nation’s distinguished political families. His great grandfather, J.N. Lewis, was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, July 26, 1847. Johnny Lewis’s grandfather was Speaker of the House of Representatives in 1930 when the Fernando Po crisis occurred, leading to the forced resignation of President Charles D.B. King on December 3, 1930 and his Vice President, Allen Yancy the previous day.
At the time Speaker Lewis, who was constitutionally next in line for succession to the presidency, was in Sinoe and there were no planes connecting Greenville, the Lewises’ place of birth, to Monrovia.
So in keeping with an Act passed in 1901, Chief Justice F.E.R. Johnson, at five minutes past three on December 3, 1930, swore in Secretary of State, Edwin J. Barclay, as the 18th President of Liberia.
The late former Chief Justice will most likely be given a state funeral. It is not certain whether he will lie in state in the Centennial Memorial Pavilion or at the St. Thomas Episcopal Church, where he has been for many years a staunch member. But this and other arrangements will be announced later.