Liberia: Bar Association Concern About Sable Mining ‘Conflict of Interest’, Appointment of Law Student as Judge

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Monrovia – Following the confirmation of Solicitor General Sayma Cyrennius Cephus, the Liberia National Bar Association (LNBA) has expressed concern about public prosecutors involve with the well-publicized Sable Mining Case.

According to a press statement, the LNBA said it has “observed with serious concern the conduct of some lawyers that raises the issue of Conflict of Interest associated with certain judicial proceedings within the Country, especially those related to corruption cases.”

The LNBA cliams that the situation has the tendency to undermine the credibility and integrity of the proceedings while warning that conflict of interest has the capacity of jeopardizing the adherence to the rule of law.

Solicitor General Cllr. Cyrenius Cephus and Montserrado County Attorney Cllr. Edwin Martin were constrained to recuse themselves from prosecuting the Sable Mining case after evidence showed that the pair were partners of the same law firm and served as private legal counsel for two of the defendants in the case.

Also, Justice Minister Musah Dean, who is also the Attorney General, has come under scrutiny for his previous role as a defense lawyer for Senator Varney Sherman – a main figure in the case.

Dean has also stepped aside from the case although concerns of his remote interference continues to loom.

Cephus and Martin were hired by Co-defendant Andrew Grove,

chief executive officer of the London AIM-listed Sable Mining, who was indicted by a grand jury in June 2016, in connection with an alleged bribery scandal involving several senior Liberian officials.

Cllr. Dean represented the other defendants, including Senator Varney Sherman of Grand Cape Mount County; former House Speaker Alex Tyler; Christopher Hayes Onanuga, former Chairman of the National Investment Commission Richard V. Tolbert; Sen. Morris Saytumah of Bomi County; former PPCC Chairman, Willie Belleh; and former Minister of Lands, Mines and Energy (MLME), Dr. Eugene Shannon; and former MLME Deputy Minister, E.C.B. Jones.

A portion of the Code of Ethics of Lawyers states that “a lawyer represents conflicting interests when, in behalf of one client, it is his duty to contend for that which duty to another client requires him to oppose.

“The obligation to represent the client with undivided fidelity, and not to divulge his secrets or confidences, forbids also the subsequent acceptance of retainers or employment from others in matters adversely affecting any interest of the client with respect to which confidence has been reposed.”

Concerns Over Appointment of Law Student as Judge

Meanwhile, the Bar says it has communicated with President George Weah regarding the appointment of a Law School student Octavius B. Doe as Probate Judge of Sinoe County.

The LNBA says the appointment is a contravention of Section 3.7 of the Judiciary Law.

It provides that “No person shall be appointed or hold office a judge of a circuit court who has not been a citizen of Liberia ……….  who is not an attorney licensed to practice and who has not engaged in the active practice of law for at least five years preceding his appointment……”.

The LNBA further urged the President to seek advice from the Bar in the future appointment of judicial officers.

It can be recalled that Doe entered the law school 2010 and had been practicing at the West Point magisterial Court after years of working with current Public Works Minister Mobutu Nyepan.

He was was then appointed by President Weah on July 9, 2018  and was subsequently confirmed by the Liberian Senate on August 21, 2018.

Former Chief Justice Cllr. Gloria Musu Scott, in an interview with FPA, described the appointment as an “embarrassment to the country” since the law was not respected by the President.

Cllr. Scott said judges of the circuit and specialized courts should be properly vetted before nomination and subsequent confirmation and appointment.

‘President Will not Relent To Change Him’

Solo Kelgbeh, Presidential Press Secretary, said President Weah was not misled but the appointment of Doe was from the county’s leadership specifically the District he currently serves as a judge.

“On March 19, 2018, a letter was sent through the Superintendent from the people of the district and the letter was signed by eight people including, the chairman of Jaedae united organization, Jah Tarplah Ford, recommending a number of people including the district superintendent to the president,” Kelgbeh said.’

He said Doe was nominated and sent them to the Legislature, that should have vetted him well before confirmation.

However, Kelgbeh said President Weah is prepared to change Doe if he lied under oath.

“I can assure you as the Presidential Press secretary, the president will not relent to change him because the Liberian Senate has all rights to recall him if he lied under oath, he could be charge for perjury,” he said.

“These things happened in the judiciary due to the lack of lawyers, in some areas of our sector, you don’t find professional people in some areas.”

Draft War Crimes Court Act Adopted

Meanwhile, LNBA says Executive Council (EC) of the Liberian National Bar Association (LNBA) has endorsed and adopted the draft act to establish an extraordinary tribunal for war and economic crimes for Liberia (2019).

The draft Act is in furtherance of the Resolution passed at the LNBA at its Assembly in March 2019 in the City of Kakata, calling for the full implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report particularly the aspect that calls for the establishment of a war and economic crimes court.

According to an LNBA release, the Executive Council at its sitting on Tuesday, July 2, 2019, lauded the extraordinary effort and the brilliant work in the drafting of the Act, which was crafted in line with international best practices.

The drafting committee was chaired by Cllr. Dr. Jallah Barbu. Others are Cllr. Frederick Gbemee, Cllr. Stanley Kparkillen, Atty. Vivian Neal and Atty. Urias Pour.

As a way of fast-tracking the process leading to the establishment of the extraordinary tribunal for war and economic crimes in the country, the Executive Council has constituted a roadmap Committee to carve a schedule of events and activities for the realization of the passage of the Act.

The committee is headed by Atty. Kunkunyon Wleh Teh.  Other members are Cllr. Sundaiway Amegashie and Cllr. Frederick Gbermie.

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