The stance taken by Judge Roosevelt Willie to deny prosecution requests to have Representative Yekeh Kolubah and other co-accused detained despite their full compliance with the dictates of the Court can rightly be considered, according to legal pundits, a breath of fresh air coming from a judiciary reputed to be both corruption-prone and plagued.
Daily Observer court reporter Abednego Davies and writer of the story carried in its July 11 edition headlined, “No Need to Re-arrest, Imprison Rep. Kolubah and Co-defendants”, reported that Judge Roosevelt Wille of Criminal Court “A” declared in open court that there was no legal basis on which Representative Kolubah and others could be ordered arrested and imprisoned. The Judge was reported to have made this declaration to the displeasure of higher-ups who had apparently brought enormous pressure to bear on the Judge. And he admitted that much.
“We have said continuously that, as far as the court was concerned, the conduct of Rep. Kolubah and the other defendants have not affected the proceedings and so, we want to assure the parties that, as far as these defendants are concerned, the court is satisfied because they were proceeding as the law requires,” Judge Willie said.
He further declared that the court would order the re-arrest and imprisonment of Rep. Kolubah and the other defendants, only if they were in violation of any of the provisions as spelt out under the conditions of their bond, noting: “But as things are proceeding, I will not allow myself to be used to authorize the re-arrest and imprisonment of anyone of the defendants to include Rep. Kolubah.”
The case involving Representative Kolubah has drawn significant public attention, owing principally not to the accusations levied against him but mainly to widely held public perceptions that he is being persecuted because of the barrage of stinging criticisms he has persistently levied against President Weah for his alleged involvement in acts of corruption.
This widely held public perception of official attempts to persecute Rep. Kolubah was further engrained by what the public condemned as partisan policing when Police failed to arrest or charge Rep. Acarous Gray, who allegedly ordered the assault and beating of a Sports bar proprietor right in his (Gray’s) presence.
Such uneven application of the law appears to corroborate findings noted in the 2018 US State Department Human Rights report which notes the following:
“The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, but judges and magistrates were subject to influence and engaged in corruption. Uneven application of the law, limited and unequal distribution of personnel and resources, lack of training, the small number of courts in rural counties, and a poor road network remained problems throughout the judicial system. Advocacy groups often reported that some judges only appear for a fraction of a court term, limiting the number of adjudicated cases per term”.
The report furthered that “Corruption persisted in the legal system. Some judges accepted bribes to award damages in civil cases. Judges sometimes solicited bribes to try cases, grant bail to detainees, or acquit defendants in criminal cases. Defense attorneys and prosecutors sometimes suggested defendants pay bribes to secure favorable decisions from judges, prosecutors and jurors, or to have court staff place cases on the docket for trial”.
The Daily Observer has long held that corruption has debilitating effects on the country and the general well-being of its people. Corruption in Liberia feeds on a culture of impunity and fear. It undermines the rule of law, erodes public confidence in government, makes virtual mincemeat of transparency and accountability, undermines social cohesion and creates instability, which stalls economic progress.
The Courts which should be a bastion of protection against the invasion of the rights of the people, has failed in many respects. The recent unannounced visit of an Associate Justice, a former Senator, to a Judge presiding over the trial of accused individuals, one of who is a sitting Senator, immediately raised eyebrows and conveyed rightly or wrongly a distinct impression that the Associate Justice was attempting to unduly influence the outcome of the case.
And for breaking the story, a newspaper editor now finds himself facing contempt charges. The Associate Justice, according to the story, walked into the courtroom while the trial was in progress. The abrupt and unannounced visit compelled the presiding Judge to suspend proceedings and retire to his chambers with the Associate Justice in tow. After nearly half an hour, according to reports, he emerged with a rather perfidious but quaint smile on his face waving to the defendants including his former colleague from the Senate.
This newspaper finds it extremely difficult to fathom what was the purpose of the visit and what was it meant to achieve. In other jurisdictions around the world, such an act would certainly be considered unthinkable because of the repercussions and consequences such would invite. It appears the Associate must have been self-assured in the belief that he could get away with such even if public opinion frowned on it.
As Chief Justice Grimes reminds us, “A court of justice is a sacred place dedicated to the God of Justice. Those who administer at the altar of justice, and especially judges and prosecuting attorneys, should do so with clean hands, viewing all matters purely objectively and endeavoring to mete out justice impartially to friend and foe alike”.
“To attempt to use a court of justice as a vehicle of oppression either to prosecute a person who is innocent or to hold under suspicion and suspense a person charged with a crime which any student of law cannot but know must ultimately end in his acquittal is persecution, not prosecution, savoring of prostitution of a baser type than that which Lord Lytton in his “last Days of Pompeii” spoke of with scorn as he described the gladiatorial combats of ancient days”.
In view of the above, Judge Willie must be commended for his stance. Indeed, all is not lost. There is still hope. It “springs eternal in the human breast”!