All Liberian lawyers see the Blind Goddess of Justice every time they traverse the main entrance to the Temple of Justice. To the ancient Romans, the Blind Goddess was known as Justitia. She is often portrayed evenly balancing both scales, having a sword, and wearing a blindfold.
To the ancient Greeks, she was known as Themis, originally the organizer of the communal affairs of humans, particularly assemblies, and became known as the goddess of divine justice. To the ancient Egyptians, she was known as Ma’at and was often portrayed carrying a sword with an ostrich in her hair, to symbolize truth and justice.
Our ancient forebears conceived justice as so sacred that it was attributed to the divine, which means heavenly, celestial or godly. Other synonyms of godly are godlike, great, delightful and lovely. Not being lawyers ourselves, but reporters only, we do not know whether our law students are taught anything about the Blind Goddess of Justice.
Maybe such lofty ideals were imparted, through the apprenticeship method, to our earlier lawyers, such as Louis Arthur Grimes who, both as Attorney General and as Chief Justice, stuck to legal principles, unfettered by fear, favor or monetary gain. Remember how he ruled against the interest of the Liberian Head of State, President Edwin Barclay, in the landmark case Wolo versus Wolo?
The Legislature had granted P.G. Wolo a divorce from his beautiful but unlettered wife, Juah Weeks Wolo, and she took the matter to the Supreme Court. Chief Justice Grimes delivered the Opinion of the Court and declared that divorce is a function NOT of the Legislature but exclusively the Judiciary and therefore ruled the Legislature’s action to be unconstitutional.
In recent times in Liberia, can we say the same thing about our Supreme Court and lower courts, that in the recent past seemed to have operated under the cloud of an imperial presidency? Remember how two years ago our courts, upon the urging of the Executive, FREED Lebanese men who had been CONVICTED of raping Liberian women and of human trafficking and sent them back to Lebanon? And no one in the Liberian Judiciary—not even the Chief Justice—was able to arrest this travesty of justice.
A prominent lawyer recently told the Daily Observer that no lawyer can get anything through the courts—not even the assignment of a case—unless big money is paid up front! And when the case is finally heard, the lawyer and his client better come up with more money—if they want a favorable ruling!
So what happened to the “Blind Goddess of Justice,” who is still standing at the very entrance to our “Temple of Justice”? Is she for real, or have Liberian lawyers and judges transformed this sacred, historical, and divine lady into a prostitute, who should be ready and willing to prostrate herself before the highest bidder?
Making society stable and peaceful depends on transparent justice and the rule of law. This is important and crucial to society’s stability and peace because it is from justice that a party hurt by the action of another may gain satisfaction and dignity, while the perpetrator, too, will come to the realization that infringing on the rights of others is wrong.
Contrary to the true rationale of justice in the Liberian society, judges from the lower to the highest courts have been recorded for taking bribes, thereby robbing the entire Judiciary of dignity, strength, and capacity to be relied on for the dispensation of justice.
We recall the speech of one of the judges, His Honor Roosevelt Z. Willie of Criminal Court ‘A’, who expressed, on behalf of his colleagues, their disapproval for deduction in salaries and benefits as proposed by President George Weah during his State of the Nation Address.
Our Judicial Correspondent, Abednego Davis, reporting on the opening of the criminal courts’ February term of court, quoted Judge Willie as having said, “Salary and other benefits for judges and magistrates shall not be diminished without a national program enacted by the Legislature as enshrined in Article 72 of the 1986 Constitution of Liberia.”
Judge Willie objected to President Weah’s suggestion that others working in government follow him by sacrificing to reduce salaries and benefits for the good of Liberia. By law, the President’s salary cannot be increased or decreased (Article 60, 1986 Constitution), which President Weah acknowledged in his speech, but on the basis of consensus building in the spirit of patriotism, he suggested that government employees should put the interest of the country above self to make such a sacrifice.
The proper paying of judges is supposed to serve as a deterrent against corruption in the judiciary. These are judges who, regardless of abject poverty affecting most ordinary citizens, are paid huge salaries and benefits. Analysis by our Judicial Reporter indicates that Circuit Court Judges earn US$4,500 monthly while magistrates earn US$1,500.
Judges receive US$5,000 each as allowance with unspecified number of scratch cards, gasoline, and medical and housing benefits. Associate Justices and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court earn as much as US$9,000 to $11,000 per month. These amounts do not include allowances, unspecified number of scratch cards, gasoline, medical and housing benefits, and expensive vehicles.
Apart from being resistant to President Weah’s proposal, many judges engage in corruption, in total disregard to the Blind Goddess of Justice, who they pass each morning en route to court. As far as they are concerned, let her stand there with the veil of blindness over her face, instead of peeping at the scales and opening her legs to the highest bidder!
The primary purpose of this Editorial is to urge all Liberians to pray that the good Lord will emancipate us from the hands of cowardly, greedy, selfish and unpatriotic judges, and give us men and women judges who will bestow honor and dignity to the sacred Blind Goddess of Justice, and make her presence felt in every legal decision they make.