Testing Times for Liberia’s Judiciary

These are indeed testing times for the nation’s judiciary. For a prolonged period and for reasons that defy explanation, the Judicial Inquiry Committee (JIC) of the Supreme Court has not completed its probe into the complaint of unethical conduct filed against Commercial Court Judge Eva Mappy Morgan by Mr. Amos Brosius and released its findings to the public.

The case has taken several twists and turns and lingered unlitigated in Court for years now since the administration of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. According to Court records, the Monrovia Oil Trading Company (MOTC), in which Mr. James Sirleaf, a son of former President Ellen Sirleaf, filed a lawsuit against the Ducor Petroleum Company headed by Mr. Amos Brosius. 

The MOTC had claimed ownership of the Ducor Petroleum alleging that Mr. Amos Brosius, manager of the Ducor Petroleum, had illegally converted or diverted money owned by the MOTC to establish the Ducor Petroleum. The alleged illegal act is said to have occurred when Mr. Amos Brosius was in the employ of the MOTC as manager of the entity.

Mr. Brosius however denied the charges/accusations in his response to the lawsuit. In view of the contentions, claims and counterclaims by both party litigants, Judge Eva Mappy Morgan, Chief Judge of the Commercial Court, placed a stay order on the Liberian Bank for Development and Investment (LBDI) accounts of the Ducor Petroleum, pending the final outcome of hearings into the matter.

But while the matter was still pending litigation, the lawyer representing the MOTC, Cllr. Negabalee Warner on July 23, 2013 wrote Chief Judge Mappy Morgan requesting the lifting of the freeze on the LBDI account of the Ducor Petroleum. The next day, July 24, 2013, Judge Mappy wrote a letter to LBDI authorizing the withdrawal of US$212,704.36.

But all this was done without the knowledge or involvement of lawyers representing Mr. Amos Brosius and neither Mr. Brosius himself according to his lawyers. Later Brosius would claim that over US$3 million was illegally withdrawn from the Ducor Petroleum account. 

According to Mr. Brosius, many legal obstacles were deliberately thrown into his path to obstruct his quest for justice.

This prompted his move to file action before the ECOWAS Court. But the Court concluded that it could not become seized of the matter because Mr. Brosius had not fully exhausted locally available legal remedies. 

According to official court records, the two other Judges of the 3-man panel of Judges had earlier written a majority opinion against Judge Mappy’s decision to lift the freeze and order the withdrawal of US$212,704.36 from the Ducor Petroleum account.

But just what happened to the money after it was withdrawn is the question which has since remained unanswered. The Judicial Inquiry Committee (JIC) has since not officially released its findings. Meanwhile a cloud of suspicion surrounding the whereabouts of the money continues to hover above the female judge.

Additionally, it remains a mystery why the majority opinion of Judge Mappy Morgan’s colleagues appears to have been conveniently sidestepped by the Supreme Court which has now referred the matter back to the very Court. Judge Mappy Morgan has since recused herself. 

As the records, show, Judge Mappy Morgan’s written instructions to LBDI President to have the money withdrawn was done in her official capacity but, her colleagues differed arguing that her action was against the law since neither Brosius nor his lawyers were duly informed or apprised of Cllr. Negbalee’s letter to Judge Mappy Morgan requesting the lifting of the freeze when litigation was still pending.  

According to the lead back page story of the Wednesday, August 11, 2021 edition of the Daily Observer, the matter is back in the Commercial Court and lawyers representing Amos Brosius are calling for the LBDI to release records of all transactions carried out from the frozen Ducor Petroleum LBDI account since the freeze was placed on it.

A retired judicial official (name withheld), commenting on developments, says this is a matter which should not be taken lightly in view of all that has transpired since this case began over five years ago. He furthered that this matter could have been laid to rest long since but was not, for unexplained reasons 

And according to him, the leaked letter from the JIC under the signature of Justice Yussif Kaba has the potential to draw the Supreme Court into the crosshairs of integrity, transparency and accountability. He added that had due legal cognizance been taken of the majority opinion of the 3-man panel of judges opposing the decision by Chief Judge Mappy Morgan to unfreeze the Ducor Petroleum account, the matter would have been long since laid to rest. 

But he added that, now that the Supreme Court has returned the matter to the Commercial Court, it is expected that the case will proceed without hiccups. Judge Mappy Morgan, in his opinion, has done the honorable thing by recusing herself. And the Chief Justice has moved quickly to appoint an ad hoc Judge to fill the vacancy created by Judge Mappy Morgan’s recusal.  

Now it remains to be seen what the Court’s decision will be concerning the request by lawyers representing Brosius to order the LBDI to release the records of the Ducor Petroleum account at LBDI. This case has lingered for so long and has been replete with many twists and turns. Hopefully, this time around, the matter will finally be laid to rest.

Testing times these are indeed for the Liberian judiciary.