The Liberian media is a favorite whipping boy of members of the country’s judiciary. These judicial officials often claim that journalists engage in sensational reporting which tend to cast judges and justices in a negative light for decisions rendered in cases brought before them.
All too often those cases involve perceived corruption on the part of judicial officials particularly judges/justices influencing their decisions. The most recent case involving disgraced but reseated Probate Judge Vinton Holder issuing two separate letters of administration is the most recent case in point.
In 2015, Chief Justice Francis Korkpor lashed out at journalists who he said were in the habit of issuing threats and other means to blackmail judges in the country. The Chief Justice declared: “whenever their preferred party loses or whenever they are dissatisfied with the outcome of certain cases of their interest, they attribute such loss to wicked intent and conduct of the court” adding, “they go about spreading falsehood about the judiciary and issue threats and intimidations intended to blackmail judges”.
Four (4) years later in April, 2019, Chief Justice Korkpor reechoed the same theme when he spoke at the end of a five-day capacity building workshop for judicial reporters. He said, “do not give the public wrong impression about [us] justices’ judgment. Let your reporting be accurate and objective; even if we were to be in the wrong, we can say sorry, because judges are human beings, who can gravely err”.
In a similar trend, Judge Eva Mappy Morgan speaking at the same forum said the peace in the country can be maintained only if the media reports accurately and fairly about decisions/opinions rendered by judges/justices . And she said it is “because the reportage would either damage or build public confidence in the country’s justice system”.
Later in August 2019, Judge Roosevelt Willie, speaking at the opening of Court admitted that corruption does exist in the judiciary but attributed same to delay in salaries and benefits for judges as well as interference in the judiciary.
But earlier in July 2019, the Judicial Inquiry Committee (JIC), following a probe into Mr. Swansey Fallah’s complaint of unethical behavior levied against Judge Richard Klah of the Commercial Court recommended that Judge Klah be immediately suspended from serving as a judge for a period of not less than one (1) year, with the loss of all salaries and benefits including transport, fuel, scratch cards for the period of his suspension.
“That, for his false statements under oath made both in his response to the complaint and in his testimony before the commission, which by law is criminal, a further three months suspension be imposed upon Klah,” the report further recommended.
The JIC further recommended that the Supreme Court set aside the decision rendered by Judge Klah in the “Action of Debt By Attachment” lawsuit brought by a Lebanese businessman, Moussa Abdulkarim, the chief executive officer of the Atlantic Development and Logistic Inc, against Swansey Fallah due to the gross unethical breach and proven irregularities associated with the hearing of the said case.
Against the backdrop of the above, the public is left with the distinct impression that gross corruption does exist in the Judiciary. The case involving Amos Brosius is a case in point about which public opinion appears to tilt towards suggestions and suspicions that unscrupulous lawyers and judges were or complicit in the illegal withdrawal of more than US$3 million from Brosius’ LBDI account.
The Commercial Court had placed a freeze on Brosius’ account following a complaint filed before the Court by a French national and a son of former President Sirleaf, accusing Brosius of stealing money from their company to establish his own company. Later, the plaintiffs wrote a letter to the Court requesting it to lift the freeze on Brosius’ account because the money rightfully belonged to them and because the freeze was having a paralyzing effect on their operations.
Without a hearing in keeping with law and without proving their charges against Brosius, the Court in a strange move, which observers say was driven by corrupt urges and inclinations, ordered the lifting of the freeze. But neither of the plaintiffs were or are signatories to Brosius’ account. Yet withdrawals were made from the account but by who, remains the unanswered question. Clearly, only the Commercial Court can answer that question.
A retired legal practitioner has told this newspaper that the withdrawal of money from Brosius’ account without his consent or knowledge constitutes a violation of the legal principle of due process since the Court’s decision was not based on the outcome of a hearing in keeping with law. He maintains that Brosius’s failed attempt to secure legal redress before the Liberian courts may have been principal reasons for his decision to seek redress before the ECOWAS Court.
Legal observers say it appears that Court officials have made sustained attempts to frighten off lawyers from taking on representation on Brosius’s behalf. They cite for instance the contempt charge slapped on respected Human Rights lawyer, Tiawan Gongloe, for no apparent reason which they claim was an attempt to frighten him off the case.
At this point, it remains unclear whether Brosius’ quest for justice has been fulfilled. But one question which remains yet unanswered is what happened to Brosius’ money. Just whose signature is on those withdrawal slips or documents needs to be answered.
This is an issue that borders on the integrity of the Judiciary especially the Supreme Court under the leadership of Chief Justice Francis Korkpor. And he needs to address the question, just who, amongst his corps of judges and justices, facilitated such action that appears indistinguishable and analogous to daylight highway robbery.
Liberia is indeed in crisis with corrupt judicial officials and corrupt legal processes stifling justice and creating leg room for the resurgence of violence by those who feel they are being denied justice. Were not injustice and the general lack of justice major push factors that sparked the 14-year civil war?