Associate Supreme Court Justice Jamesetta Howard Wolokolie has often criticized the Liberian media, charging it for defaming the image of the judiciary in its reports on corruption in the Judiciary.
But local media reports have also been awash with stories of corruption in the Judiciary, but Justices of the Supreme Court have often blamed journalists, lawyers or judges of subordinate courts for faults, both real and imagined, in the Judiciary.
Quite recently, Associate Justice Jamesetta Howard Wolokolie launched a blistering attack on the media, charging it for defamation of the Judiciary. “This goes to the media people who, for some reason, are going out there defaming the judiciary without any evidence.
“Any story, which you report without any evidence and anything goes wrong, we Liberians will form a part of it because Liberia is what we all have,” declared Justice Wolokolie recently.
But are Justices of the Supreme Court really above reproach? This newspaper does not believe so. The Daily Observer’s editorial of August 12, 2020 headlined, “We Beg to Differ Justice Wolokolie” challenged her opinion that corruption in the Judiciary was only small-scale corruption.
Now with credible reports surfacing of direct conflict of interest (a form of corruption) in a matter now before the Supreme Court, the Daily Observer is once again constrained to raise the issue of corruption in the Judiciary, this time involving Justice Wolokolie herself.
According to credible reports received by this newspaper, a group of local businessmen (Liberians) of ethnic Fula origin, several months ago, placed an order for a container load of cigarettes intended for sale on the Liberian market.
The goods arrived and the assessed BIVAC taxes, reportedly amounting to US$26,000, were paid by the importers as duty on the cigarettes. The Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA), conducting what it called Destination Inspection, reassessed and placed a tax value of over US$200,000 on the container.
The importers however disagreed with the LRA and took the matter to the tax Court for its intervention to settle the dispute between the LRA and the importers. The court ruled on the matter, placing a prohibition on the LRA’s tax assessment and ordered the LRA to release the container from the Freeport.
The LRA however disagreed with the Court’s ruling and took and appeal to the Supreme Court where Justice Wolokolie is presiding as Justice-in-Chambers. Now it is important to note that the head of the LRA, Thomas Doe Nah, is the biological maternal brother of Justice Wolokolie.
Rather than recusing herself from the case in view of her consanguinity (blood relationship) to the head of the LRA, Thomas Doe Nah, she instead elected to sit on the case as though she was a neutral and disinterested party.
And she chose not to recuse herself in gross violation of the law. Moreover, according to reports, she has allegedly ordered the importers to seek accommodation with the LRA by working out a payment plan, which suggests that it is the official position of the Supreme Court.
Strangely, however, she (Justice Wolokolie) has not penned a written opinion on the matter on which basis the importers can appeal to the full Bench of the Court when it returns from recess.
Rather, instead, she has allegedly ordered the importers to commit themselves on paper to pay an astronomical sum of money far exceeding the value of the goods imported.
Now, if this is not corruption, we crave the indulgence of Justice Wolokolie to please define or redefine the meaning of nepotism, conflict of interest, etc.
And she also needs to tell the public why she has refused to recuse herself from this case, given her relationship to LRA head, Thomas Doe Nah.
In the view of the Daily Observer, Justice Wolokolie’s action is not only and simply an ethical breach, it is also in violation of the law, particularly in this situation where she appears to be reversing the decision of the lower court without spreading on the record her reasons for doing so.
Further, by insisting that the importers comply with the LRA by working out payment modalities for a sum considered unjust in the eyes of the lower court and yet refusing to spread such on record constitutes a violation of the Right to Due Process, which is an enshrined tenet of our laws.
This is because by refusing to spread on the record her disagreement with the lower court, she is conveying a distinct but false impression that Judicial officials at the highest level can violate the law with impunity.
In the view of the Daily Observer, Justice Wolokolie’s latest action to preside over a case in which she has interests, constitutes conflict of interest and gross disrespect for the rule of law to which she is pledged to uphold.
Further, if Justices of the Supreme Court, the highest Court in the land, can routinely dispense perverted justice of the kind being witnessed in this case right here in the nation’s capital, then we shudder to imagine what would be happening in courts outside Monrovia in far flung places where judicial officials are virtually a law unto themselves.
Justice Wolokolie can certainly do better because she ought to know better. The LRA head, Thomas Doe Nah should also know better. After all, only recently he was an unabashed crusader for transparency and accountability as head of the Center for Transparency and Accountability in Liberia (CENTAL).
Just what has happened to those impeccable anti-corruption credentials is the question in view of his attempt to coerce payment by taking the matter to his sister and Associate Justice for a judgment in his favor.
Justice Wolokolie must as a matter of principle and respect for the rule of law, recuse herself forthwith. The law is not and should not be a respecter of persons not even for President Weah, let alone his surrogates including her brother, LRA head, Thomas Doe Nah.