Is This Judicial Tyranny, or What?

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Several employees of the FrontPage Africa newspaper were on the morning of Monday, April 8, 2010 arrested by both officers of the Liberia National Police (LNP) and constables from the Civil Law Court of the Temple of Justice.

The arrests were in connection to a US$1,850,000 “Damages for a Wrong by Attachment” lawsuit filed by two of three administrators of the Interstate administration of the late Lawrence A. Morgan.

The lawsuit, dated April 4, 2018, was filed by Henry A.K. Morgan and Moses T. Konah, seeking an amount of US$500,000 as special damages, US$1,000,000 representing general damages and US$350,000 as punitive damages against the newspaper.  The writ named Henry VI Morgan, Edward A. Morgan and Gbein Morgan as collaborators.

It is worthy of note that one of the parties to the lawsuit, Henry A.K. Morgan, contested the 2011 election as a representative aspirant in District 2 of Bomi County on the ticket of the Congress for Democratic Change.  This political party, which was later renamed the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC), is now the ruling party in full control of the Liberian government.  It is led by President George Weah, President of the Republic of Liberia.  It is not known whether or not he is a relation to Counselor Weah of the Weah and Associates Law Firm that filed the lawsuit against FrontPage Africa on behalf of the plaintiffs in this case.

What is very evident is that this latest civil action for damages against FrontPage Africa comes days after the Monrovia City Mayor, a loyal member of the ruling CDC and also chairman of the CDC’s Youth League, Jefferson Koijee, blasted Mr. Rodney D. Sieh, Managing Editor ofFrontPage Africa for what Koijee called “not being in the interest of the government.”

Koijee accused FrontPage Africa of engaging in “unprofessional attacks on the presidency and denigration of initiatives by the government, including negotiations of US$536 million needed for a proposed coastal highway, among others.”

Mr. Koijee warned the FrontPage Managing Editor “not to use the media to launch your selfish, cruel agenda, because Liberia needs to be developed and this is the best moment.”

Mr. Sieh recently published in his newspaper, FrontPage Africa,  a series of investigative stories on activities of President George Weah’s government.

Our Judicial Correspondent, Abednego Davis, who wrote Tuesday’s story on the Civil Law Court action against FrontPage, quoted the newspaper’s lawyer, Counselor Pearl Brown Bull, as telling reporters on Monday evening that the Liberian government “was not behind the lawsuit against the newspaper.”  She added, “There was no government manipulation in the lawsuit, rather two private individuals that filed the action of damages “for wrong by attachment against the newspaper and several of its employees.”

The main concern for us of the Daily Observer newspaper and even the entire media and civil society, is not so much whether the drastic action of the judge, His Honor Judge Yarmie Gbeisay of the Civil Law Court, against FrontPage Africa had anything to do with government manipulation. What for us is most alarming is why did Judge Gbeisay go so far as to arrest as many of the newspaper staff as were found at its premises, including the janitors and, in addition, shut down the newspaper!

This, we feel, was beyond the reach of justice.  In normal legal procedures, defendants in a suit of libel are legally allowed 10 days after the suit has been served them to respond to a lawsuit.  It is after the defendants have filed their returns, within or before the expiration of the 10 days, that the plaintiff files a reply, thereby resting pleadings. After this, assignment is issued to both parties for the disposition of law issues, in the absence of any pretrial motion.  After the disposition of law issues, the case is ruled on its merits, then moved to trial.

Assuming that the defendants violated an order of the court, the worst the court could have done was to hold them in contempt, in which case, arrest is not even necessary, because it is a civil action.  But that was not the case, in that the defendants never violated any court order.

This judge, however, in a tacit overreach of justice, before the newspaper had a chance even to seek legal counsel and file their returns, sent the court marshal and bailiffs to FrontPage Africa’s office, closed it down and arrested several of its editors and staff.

We consider this a travesty of justice which, moreover, is a classic case of judicial tyranny.

It would be interesting to see what Chief Justice Korkpor and his colleagues on the Supreme Court Bench will do in this case, to reassure the media, civil society and the nation as a whole that such reprehensible judicial behavior is not to be tolerated and that Liberia’s courts of law are established to mete out justice, and justice alone, not tyranny.

4 COMMENTS

  1. Your Editorial dated 4-9-18 stated, “Jonathan, Come Home; You Have Nothing to Fear but Fear Itself!” Do you feel the same now, considering other Journalists civil and human rights have been violated by the court. The situation in Liberia about Press Freedom is not looking good. Is this a familiar trend or is it too early to say. This has a tendency of creating fear in the country and the exit of human capital. We are appealing to all involve to mediate the problem including the court to dispense Justice without fear or favor.

  2. It is a complete mockery of the rule of law in Liberia when a judge violates the basic legal principle of ‘due process’ and engages in judicial abuse. We must condemn that kind of behavior. The Supreme Court needs to admonish judges to refrain from abusing their authority because it will undermine the credibility of the Judiciary and the whole principle of fairness. If Liberians don’t believe they can get justice then it will lead to chaos, and we have been down that road not too long ago. It’s puzzling how quickly Liberians forget their history…no wonder the country is very slow to move forward.

  3. A judge misused his authority, and “Daily Observer” wonders whether his behavior amounts to “judicial tyranny”, or not. It is the perceived tendency for hyperbole which drives the accusations of sensationalism. One senses an attempt at linking the complainant with government to convey an impression of a hostile mass media environment less than four months of the new government taking power.

    The narrative would resonate with those who preferred someone other than George Weah as president. Because the press-government cat and mouse existence in all its ugliness predated him. We aren’t belaboring EJS’s advice for PUL’s Quaqua in July 2012 – “You must now act to establish self-regulating measures, as many other countries have done, to ensure that the media acts responsibly by the granting of these freedoms” – but it informs the impasse in decriminalizing our defamation laws.

    It would seem that different PUL leaderships realized that journalism won’t be profitable, hence not an attractive career goal, were it practiced on a ‘level playing field’. And what does the adjectival phrase mean in this context? A situation where journalists know that freedom of speech has limitations and responsibilities; a place where written ethics of the profession are strictly adhered to; and a condition by which defamation is “decriminalized” yet prosecutable as a deterrence.

    Undoubtedly, it should ensure that “investigative journalism’ means fact-finding; careful gathering of evidence, cross-checking stories from leakers, fake news purveyors, or rumormongers – a venture which will be financially prohibitive. Tellingly, one of the recommendations of UN Special Rapporteur David Kay was as follows:

    “The strength and diversity of the media depend on more than just legal change, though that is fundamental, in the face of poor working conditions and extremely limited funding and equipment, the media, governmental actors, and international donors should collaborate to improve the sustainability and professionalism of journalism in Liberia”.

    “Not just legal change”, said it all.

    That should’ve claimed attention of the new Administration. For if government can’t assist the press financially, others would, and use the leverage for other ‘purposes’. It reminds of Mobutu reportedly allowing a foreign intelligence service to fund Zaire’s national security apparatus, and then wondered why he was overthrowned at the behest of his former foreign friends. Peace-loving Liberians must not overlook the looming press-government crisis on the horizon, folks.

  4. A successful Liberian entrepreneur in the US called after reading my comment; this apolitical senior citizen said, “Forh, you’re right about the money thing. I was editor of our high school’s newspaper in Liberia during my senior year and Counselor Twan Wreh had gone there as guest speaker for some event. During a conversation, I asked him why he traded Journalism for Law, and he calmly replied,’Young man, there is a family to support’. And that honest reply diverted me to Business Administration in college, and the rest you know”.

    A successful Liberian entrepreneur in the US called after reading my comment; this apolitical senior citizen said, “Forh, you’re right about the money thing. I was editor of our high school’s newspaper in Liberia during my senior year and Counselor Twan Wreh had gone there as guest speaker for some event. During a conversation, I asked him why he traded Journalism for Law, and he calmly replied,’Young man, there is a family to support’. And that honest reply diverted me to Business Administration in college, and the rest you know”.

    A successful Liberian entrepreneur in the US called after reading my comment; this apolitical senior citizen said, “Forh, you’re right about the money thing. I was editor of our high school’s newspaper in Liberia during my senior year and Counselor Twan Wreh had gone there as guest speaker for some event. During a conversation, I asked him why he traded Journalism for Law, and he calmly replied,’Young man, there is a family to support’. And that honest reply diverted me to Business Administration in college, and the rest you know”.

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