Liberia’s Judiciary in the Crosshairs of Adverse International Opinion?

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The latest US State Department Human Rights Report has for the umpteenth time drawn the Liberian Judiciary into its crosshairs singling out Judge Eva Mappy Morgan for stinging criticism virtually accusing her of official misconduct. And the case referenced was that of the Monrovia Oil Trading Company (MOTC) vs Ducor Petroleum.

Based on her handling of the case before the empaneled 3-man Board of Judges over which she presided as Chairperson, Amos Brosius representing the Ducor Petroleum, wrote a letter of complaint to the Judicial Inquiry Commission alleging that Judge Mappy, who had placed a freeze on his accounts due to action filed by the MOTC, had without his knowledge and or consent ordered the withdrawal of US$3 million from his account.

The matter had since lingered before the Judicial Inquiry Commission (JIC) despite concerns raised by lawyers by Brosius as well as prior concerns raised by this newspaper on the prolonged delay by the JIC in disposing of the matter. According to sources, the entire Bench of the Supreme Court was not unaware of such delay simply on account of news reportage on the matter, meaning it was public knowledge.

But just why such unexplained prolonged delay was experienced, has only recently been made clear. And the delay has been attributed to the lack of resources to facilitate the work of the JIC. But if such were indeed the case, why was it not made public long before the release of the US State Department Human Rights Report?

Only now and after the release of the US Report has it been revealed that the lack of resources is responsible for the prolonged delay. Moreover, it is only now that it is being revealed that two (2) judges of the 3-judge Panel chaired by Judge Mappy had since written a majority opinion reversing the injunction (freeze of Ducor Petroleum accounts) placed by Judge Mappy on the Ducor Petroleum account. 

But their majority opinion had apparently been ignored, although the law establishing the Commercial Court forbids a single Judge from deciding any case over US$1 million. And while the freeze was still in place, according to lawyers representing Amos Brosius, Judge Mappy, acting in the name of the Commercial Court, ordered the withdrawal of US$3 million from his company’s account without notice to him or his lawyers.

But the haunting question is why did Judge Mappy ignore the majority opinion of her colleagues on the Panel? Further, it remains unclear how and by what means the Judge succeeded in holding sway over her colleagues and kept same under wraps to the point where, nine (9) years later, it is just being revealed that Judge Mappy’s action is void ab initio based on the majority opinion of her colleagues, reversing her injunction. 

In their majority opinion the judges declared: “Now that the full panel had ruled that a single judge of the panel was without jurisdiction to take such action, it will be undermining the ruling of the court for said action to be in full force and effect.”

They continued, “The preliminary injunction as ordered by the Chief Judge is void… and of no legal effect consistent with law. Where a Judge acts without jurisdiction, his judgment is a nullity and cannot be enforced.”

But of what import is the majority decision of the Commercial Court Panel of Judges when the money has since been withdrawn from the account? And despite the matter having claimed wide public attention including that of the media, no action had been taken suggestive of intent to bring finality to the issue.

In case the report of the JIC holds Judge Mappy liable, the public appears keen on knowing whether the Supreme Court will demand restitution by the Commercial Court or will it indemnify the Court and instead demand restitution by Judge Mappy.

Moreover, will the JIC make public its findings in the public interest? A lawyer, speaking on conditions of anonymity, has told the Daily Observer that Judge Mappy is simply the face of what he and other lawyers suspect was a conspiracy involving other higher-ups. In their opinion the huge sums involved make it highly improbable that Judge Mappy would have acted alone.

Whatever the case, this latest US State Department Human Rights Report vindicates the Liberian media which has often been blamed by judicial officials for portraying and projecting a poor public image of the judiciary. But the facts show otherwise. The issue concerning Amos Brosius’s complaint against Judge Mappy has been raised by the media before including the Daily Observer.

The issues raised were however treated with benign concern and not until the release of the US Report has the Court not only admitted that resource constraints have impeded the work of the JIC but, there are also hundreds of undecided complaints against judges and magistrates with most complaints coming from rural areas.

According to Associate Justice Yussif Kaba, the difficulty in locating most complainants from rural areas has also impeded the work of the JIC. Whether this is due to fear of reprisals remains unclear, but it is indeed indicative of the culture of fear and impunity that continues to stalk the land, according to a leading local human rights advocate. In view of the foregoing, is it any wonder why Liberia’s judiciary has been drawn into the crosshairs of adverse international opinion?

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