The Liberian judiciary has once again come under the spotlight in the wake of the US Department of Treasury sanctions slammed against prominent Liberian lawyer, Varney Sherman, currently serving as Senator of Grand Cape Mount County.
According to the US Department of Treasury, Cllr. Varney Sherman “offered bribes to multiple judges associated with his trial for a 2010 bribery scheme and had an undisclosed conflict of interest with the judge who ultimately returned a not guilty verdict in his favor in 2019”.
The Statement further said that Counsellor Sherman has “routinely paid judges to decide cases in his favor…” and that his “acts of bribery demonstrate a larger pattern of behavior to exercise influence over the Liberian Judiciary and the Ministry of Justice.”
But the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court has not taken lightly this recent decision of the US Department of Treasury sanctioning Senator Sherman.
According to the Chief Justice, “the statement, no doubt, casts serious doubts and aspersions not only on the integrity and credibility of the Counsellor named and the judges alluded therein, but also on the Liberian Judiciary as an institution responsible for the fair and impartial hearing and disposition of cases. The statement is of outmost concern to the Judiciary.
The Chief Justice further maintained that: “until now the Judiciary Branch, headed by the Supreme Court, has withheld comments and reactions to allow for consultations with the US Embassy near Monrovia for the benefit of receiving more information on the matter”.
“Following these consultations, the Judiciary wishes to make it emphatically clear that as an institution, it has zero tolerance for bribery and all other forms of corrupt practices. As such it does not and will never allow or condone the act of any lawyer, party litigant or whosoever desiring to ‘exercise influence’ over it”.
Now whether the Chief Justice Korkpor’s response was a knee-jerk reaction triggered by the sanctioning of Cllr/Senator Varney Sherman is unclear.
However, judging from his response, it can be deduced that the Chief Justice must have given the matter some deep thought following which he issued an official statement on the matter.
But, according to a retired judicial official, the Chief Justice’s response was at best feeble and constituted nothing more than a whitewashing of the hard fact that corruption is indeed a serious problem at the judiciary.
He cited for instance the case of disgraced Commercial Court Probate Richard Klah who resigned for fear of public disgrace after it had been revealed that he had demanded bribes from a party litigant to render a decision in his favor.
Another example is that of Probate Judge J. Vinton Holder. Judge Holder was suspended, rather than impeached, after having been found guilty of unethical conduct. But he has since resumed duties at the very Court.
Similarly, according to him also, is the case involving Amos Brosius and his complaint of unethical conduct against Commercial Court Chief Judge Eva Mappy Morgan.
Brosius had complained that Judge Mappy, at the request of an adversarial party unfroze Brosius’ Ducor Petroleum account which had been contested by the Monrovia Oil Trading Company which also claimed ownership.
According to Brosius, the lifting of the freeze without Court notice to him resulted in the unauthorized withdrawal of US1.3m from his company’s account.
That matter has since lingered at the Judicial Inquiry Committee for over a year and there is no indication when its report is going to be released. But informed sources have told this newspaper that there is more to the matter than meets the eye.
And now, questions are being asked and rightly so, just why has this report been delayed so long if indeed Chief Justice Korkpor‘s professed commitment to fighting corruption is one of several core policies of the judiciary?
The record shows that there are a total of 141 complaints of impropriety against several judges that are yet to be concluded. Just why such huge number of complaints against judges would linger for so long at the Judicial Inquiry Committee beats the imagination.
Had those complaints been heard and disposed of, there would be little reason for Chief Justice Korkpor to put moot such arguments which, according to analysts appear to be more of a defensive pitch in favor of Senator Cllr. Varney Sherman.
At any rate, according to legal analysts, Chief Justice Korkpor’s arguments, in their view constitute nothing more than mere bare denials. According to them when Chief Justice Korkpor stated that the “Judiciary has regularly and systematically sanctioned its members and weeded out those acts are inimical to its core values“. Were this the case, analysts argued, Probate Judge Vinton Holder would not have been reinstated after having been reprimanded for gross impropriety.
Thus, his statement simply does not hold water, according to them especially considering the long roster(141) of unheard complaints against judges which have lingered before the JIC for prolonged periods.
They also highlighted the case of non-payment of judicial workers for prolonged periods and cited the example of Archie Ponpon who set himself ablaze in protest.
They observed that to the best of publicly available information, there is no evidence that the Chief Justice sanctioned himself or his colleagues for allowing such abuses to happen under his/their watch.
Thus, they conclude, it is by no means surprising that Chief Justice Korkpor’s statement that “the information contained in the statement issued by the US Treasury Department, without more is insufficient to serve as a basis for sanctions against the referenced judicial actors”, is but a veiled reference to Senator Varney Sherman.
But, the public has long since been aware that the judiciary is corrupt. False declarations and assertions of self-righteousness will not change the situation. Whatever the case, Chief Justice Korkpor has an uphill challenge. Rooting out corruption in the judiciary is and will not be easy. In this case, truth and honesty are critical elements but such are very difficult to source nowadays.