It has been nearly seven months and the justices of the Supreme Court have yet to obtain a quorum to decide whether to approve or disapprove the recommendation of the Judiciary Inquiry Commission’s (JIC) one-year suspension without pay and benefits against Judge Eva Mappy Morgan.
According to a senior judicial source, this now gives President George Weah the legal backing to appoint an Ad Hoc Judge.
The punishment recommendation against Counselor Morgan, currently the Chief Judge of the Commercial Court, was necessitated when the JIC’s findings said that the judge unilaterally unfroze a contentious escrow account belonging to the Ducor Petroleum Incorporated that was housed at the Liberia Bank for Development and Investment (LBDI), which account should have been unfrozen, only pending the outcome of the lawsuit for accounting between a Liberian businessman Amos Brosius and his partner the Monrovia Oil Trading Corporation (MOTC), owned by Charles Carron, a Belgian national.
But the JIC claimed that without the conclusion of the case nor the consent of Brosius, Judge Morgan, upon a communication from the Heritage and Partners Law Firm jointly owned by Counselors Negbalee Warner and Abrahim Sillah, the judge unfroze the escrow account and allowed the lawyers of MOTC to withdraw the amount of US$3.3 million from the disputed Ducor Petroleum's account.
It is the decision for which the justices are finding it difficult to obtain a quorum, despite Judge Morgan admittance that she acted based upon the letter of Counsellors Warner and Sillah, during her testimony before the JIC, which, according to senior lawyers, is the first time in many years to witness the justices divided over a recommendation by the JIC.
The judicial source said the Supreme Court, given its deep division over the matter, will now lead to the activation of a “dormant” constitutional provision to pave the way for appointment by the President of an ad-hoc judge.
The constitutional provision says: “The 5-member Supreme Court bench is composed of a Chief Justice and four Associate Justices who are ranked in order of seniority, based on tenure on the Supreme Court bench, with the longest serving ranked most senior Associate Justice after the Chief Justice.”
It adds, “For deliberation purposes, three members of the Supreme Court bench shall constitute a quorum. If a quorum cannot be obtained at any time to hear a case, the President of the Republic of Liberia shall appoint an Ad Hoc Judge from the Circuit Judges for the purpose of having a quorum. Consideration of said Circuit Judge for appointment shall be in the order of seniority.”
In this case, the justices voted 2-2, according to the source, while one of the five justices, Associate Justice Yussif Kaba, did not vote because he chaired the JIC that recommended the suspension of Judge Morgan. Therefore, he was compelled by the law to recuse himself from further voting in the matter, which he did.
The source further said, Chief Justice Francis Korkpor and Associate Justice Sie-A-Nyene G. Yuoh voted in favor, and Associate Justices Jamesetta Howard Wolokollie and Joseph Nagbe were against. This divided decision set the stage for President Weah to appoint the most senior judge among the judges.
According to the source, the two most senior judges are Blamo Dixon and Boima Kontoe. Unfortunately for President Weah, Judge Kontoe, who the President on numerous occasions appointed as Ad Hoc Judge, was among the members of the JIC that recommended the suspension of Judge Morgan, meaning that Judge Dixon should be the next Ad Hoc Judge in line.
Interestingly, Judge Dixon, himself was initially accused by Judge Morgan of Interfering with the case, while the matter was pending undecided before her court, of which Morgan filed a complaint of unethical conduct against Dixon before the very JIC.
In her complaint, Judge Morgan alleges that one Bailiff Felton Davis of the Criminal Court'C acted upon the directive of Judge Blamo Dixon, and sent a text message to the cellphone number of Mr. Charles Carron, chief executive officer of Monrovia Oil Trading Corporation (MOTC), soliciting a meeting to discuss his corporation case pending before the Commercial Court.
Morgan then claimed that Dixon’s text message was sent in the names of the three judges that were presiding over the Commercial Court, even though, by the act that created it, provides that three judges shall preside over the court. However, Judge Morgan, being the chief judge, decided to single-handedly take over the case.
During the JIC's investigation of Morgan’s allegation, by then, Judge Dixon, in reply, rubbished Judge Morgan’s accusation, terming it as “ineffective and failed judges of the Commercial Court proven beyond all reasonable doubt the allegation contained in the bogus criminally drafted complaint.”
Dixon further argued that during the time of the Ducor Petroleum's case, he was assigned at the 2nd Judicial Circuit Court in Grand Bassa County, which made him at that time to not be in the bailiwick of the Temple of Justice building, to have directly or indirectly instructed Bailiff Felton Davis to allegedly sent text message to the MOTC..
By the time of the claim and counterclaim between Morgan and Dixon, Morgan had already ordered the MOTC to withdraw the money from the Ducor Petroleum's escrow account at the LBDI.
For Bailiff Felton Davis, he admitted that he sent the text message in the names of the Commercial Court judges to the MOTC chief executive officer Carron, to solicit assistance for payment of his tuition. Davis further said he did this on his own volition and not upon the directive of Judge Dixon, that he had made a mistake and was sorry for the embarrassment that his action caused the three judges of the Commercial Court.
At the end, the JIC cleared Dixon of any wrong during and recommended an immediate dismissal of Bailiff Felton Davis, which recommendation, according to a source, was unanimously agreed to by the justices of the Supreme Court.
The question remains, who will be the next ad hoc Judge that President Weah is contemplating appointing.