Liberia: Chief Justice, Bar President Exchange Jibes over Impeachment of Associate Justice Kabineh Ja’neh
MONROVIA – Chief Justice Francis S. Korkpor feels he is wrongly criticized by those he believes ought to know better about his role in Justice Kabineh Ja’neh’s impeachment trial, but the vocal President of the Bar Association, Cllr. Tiawon Gongloe, insists Chief Justice Korkpor’s role in the proceeding is not constitutionally backed.
At the opening of the March 2019 Term of Court, a ceremony that brings all actors in the Judiciary together, Chief Justice Korkpor being mindful of restriction on his ability to speak on the impeachment proceeding sought to provide some clarity on his role.
He told lawyers, magistrates, judges and other judicial actors, who gathered at the opening on Monday, he is only acting on a constitutional mandate.
“Members of the Bar, ladies and gentlemen, it is no secret this Court is going through a challenging time. We cannot ignore this. The impeachment trial going on at the Legislature involving Mr. Justice Kabineh M. Ja’neh, a member of this Court, is unprecedented in the history of our country. To the best of my recollection, no impeachment proceeding in our nation has taken on the form of a full-blown trial before the Senate,” he said.
The Chief Justice said his mandate in the trial is predicated on Article 43 of the Constitution. He said the Liberian Senate tries the proceeding and is the sole judge of whether or not the Justice has committed an impeachable offense.
“We have no doubt that the honorable men and women of the Senate will, at the end of the trial, make a fair and just determination based on the findings,” Chief Justice Korkpor said.
Chief Justice Korkpor added: “The Constitution provides that the trial be conducted in keeping with due process of law. This, I see my role as the presiding officer to ensure that the trial process is in keeping with due process of law as mandated by the Constitution. But I have heard and read, and continue to hear and read many accusations, innuendoes and speculative views about my role in the process. And some of these views are coming from people who ought to know better. As the matter is being tried, I will for now, refrain from making any substantive comments regarding my own role. But I assure that in the end the truth will emerge.”
At the same ceremony, Cllr. Gongloe, who heads the BAR, agreed with the Chief Justice that the Court is challenged, but in his view, the Court is challenged because the Chief Justice is condoning disrespect meted on the Court by the Legislature.
“Your honors, we agree with Mr. Chief Justice Korkpor that the court is going through a challenging period and we emphasize, a very challenging period, due to the efforts by some members of the House of Representatives to impeach his Honor Mr. Justice Kabineh M. Ja’neh,” he said.
Cllr. Gongloe explained that the impeachment of Justice Ja’neh is the second time that a member of the Supreme Court bench has gone through an impeachment proceeding.
He narrated: “The member of the Supreme Court Bench to ever be impeached, since 1847, was Chief Justice Chea Cheapo in 1987. For the jailing of Judge Harper Bailey, the Chief Justice was impeached almost unanimously by the Senate. The only Senator who voted to acquit him was Senator David Menyongai of Margibi County. Although, Chief Justice Cheapo tendered in his resignation, President Samuel K. Doe rejected his resignation and rather chose to impeach him. It was a challenging moment for the Supreme Court, as it is today.”
According Cllr. Gongloe, what makes it more challenging for the Court is that the Bill of Impeachment on which Justice Ja’neh is being tried is a product of defiance by some members of the House of Representatives, of the alternative Writ of Prohibition issued by a Justice of the Supreme Court sitting in Chambers, acting under the authority of the law.
“It is also challenging because the full bench of the Supreme did not consider this defiance of the presiding Justice’s order as a defiance of the entire Bench. In our view, the failure of any individual, group of individuals, or any department or branch of government to honor an order of this Court undermines the rule of law and threatens the peace, security and development of this country. Here lies the real challenge,” he added.
Cllr. Gongloe finds it frustrating that the impeachment of Justice Ja’neh began with a list of actions or conducts which, in his view, do not qualify as impeachable offenses.
“Two of the actions listed have direct links to this Court. In one case Mr. Justice Ja’neh was a party in a case decided by the Supreme Court. In the other, he was performing a judicial duty in which his decision was subject to review by the entire Bench. Yet, Justice Ja’neh is being subjected to a hearing for matters that both the bench and a Justice in Chambers are protected by the Constitution of Liberia for,” he said.
He said the history of Liberia will record that the Chief Justice whose bench was disrespected by some members of the House of Representatives chose to preside over an impeachment proceeding which was based on a total disregard for authority of the Supreme Court.
Gongloe: “This impeachment trial is not only challenging, but troubling because it has the potential of bringing the bar of impeachment so low, that it may serve as a precedent for the easy impeachment and removal of elected and other high officials of government, not excluding the Chief Justice and other members of the bench, who can only be removed by impeachment. It is challenging because it promises future instability in government. We can only hope that the Senate will save this country where this Court failed on this matter.”
The president of the Bar reminded the Bench that the Court is partly responsible for the over 250,000 lives that were lost as a result of the 14 years of brutal civil war because of its failure to play its role accordingly. “Your Honors this Court, is the only source of hope for the survival of our democracy and the sustenance of peace and security in our country. The LNBA will support and cooperate with your honors as long as you perform your duty as the custodian of our democracy, peace and security. We must always remind ourselves, that this Court shares the blame for the more than 250,000 people that were killed in Liberia during the civil conflict. Had this Court plays its part well, in the past, Liberia would not have descended into conflict. We urge the current bench not to allow itself to be similarly judged in the future,” he averred.