Liberia: Solicitor General Cllr. Cephas Allegedly Playing Double Standard in the Corkrum Saga

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Cllr. Syrenius Cephas is now prosecuting the very clients he defended in the same case

MONROVIA – Solicitor General, Cllr. Sayma Syrenius Cephas, appears to be getting away with an offense that cost former predecessor, Cllr. Micah Wilkins Wright, a one-year suspension from the practice of law and his prestigious post as the Vice President of the ECOWAS Court.

In February 2017, Cllr. Wright’s reputation as an astute lawyer and a Judge of the regional court, came to public disrepute when he was found liable of breaching Rule 8 & 9 the Moral and Ethical Conduct of Lawyers by obscuring his lawyer-client relationship with a former client of his while representing the government against the client in his capacity as Solicitor General of Liberia.

Cllr. Wright, while pleading on behalf of the Government of Liberia as Solicitor General, concealed his relationship with his former client, FIDC/Sochor, when at the time, he conceded to a US$15.9 million fraudulent judgment against the Government of Liberia.

Rev. Dr. Cllr. Pearl Brown Bull, former Chairman Grievance Committee appointed by the Chief Justice Supreme Court, Johnny Lewis, to investigate unethical conduct of Lawyers and Secretary Judicial Inquiry Committee to investigate unethical conduct of judges and magistrate believes Cllr. Cephas representation of Madam Ellen Corkrum and subsequently dropping charges against her in his capacity as Solicitor General is tantamount to breaching the lawyers code of ethics.

Cepha’s Double Standard

“Within the meaning of this Rule, a lawyer represents conflicting interests when, on 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 or retainers or employment from other in matters adversely affecting any interest of the client with respect to which confidence has been reposed.”

– Rule 9, Code for the Moral and Ethical Conduct of Lawyers

According to Justice Minister/Attorney General Frank Musah Dean, it was the office of the Solicitor General that initiated the proceeding to drop charges against Corkrum – and that was not to his knowledge. 

Cllr. Cephas who formerly represented the legal interest of Corkrum, indicted for economic sabotage and theft of property, succeeded in getting Criminal Court “B” to dismiss the indictment, pointing out to the failure of the government to be able to serve the indictment and prosecute the case within the statutory period of two terms of court.

The charges were dropped against her on Monday, December 9, by Judge Nancy F. Sammy of Criminal Court ‘C’ based on prosecution’s request through a motion to Nolle Prosequoi the case.

The motion to Nolle Prosequoi the case was filed by the prosecution on December 3, 2019.

In the motion, the Assistant Minister for Litigation at the Ministry of Justice, Cllr. Wesseh A. Wesseh argued that the case had been pending before the court since 2013 without having the opportunity to serve defendant Corkrum with the Indictment or the Writ of Arrest to bring her under the jurisdiction of the court.

“Counsel submits that the defendant along with other defendants in these proceedings, was indicted in 2013 during the November A.D 2013 Term of Court for the crimes of Economic Sabotage, Criminal Conspiracy, Theft of Property and Misapplication of Entrusted property.”

Cllr. Wesseh continues: “Movant further says that after the indictment was obtained against the defendants, it has become very impossible to have the defendant (Corkrum) served with the indictment, and that as a matter of law, the said proceedings have been on the docket of this court almost five years, thereby making it impossible to have the case assigned or trial.”

Cllr. Wesseh also stated in the motion that the decision to enter a Nolle Prosequoi was based on a reservation to have the matter dismissed in keeping with Chapter 18, Section 18.1 of the Criminal Procedure Law.

In his letter to the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC), Cllr. Cephas contended that his decision to seek the dismissal of the indictment was due to the selective manner in which the previous regime was dropping charges in favor of some of the co-defendants in the case.

He wrote: “A careful review of the records of the case shows, that the previous government entered a Nolle Prosequoi in favor of a number of defendants involved in this matter prior to our ascendancy, and we in recent times, did the same due to the absence of Madam Corkrum and to avoid being seen as pursuing a “selective prosecution.”

However, former Solicitor General, Bettie Lamin Blamo who represented the Liberian Government at the ECOWAS Court and won on the government’s behalf fired back at Cllr. Cephas, noting that his letter to the LACC was disingenuous.

She explained that Co-defendant FIB confused judgement and received a suspended sentence. 

No Nollee Prosequi was not entered in favor of Musa Bility. Instead, the charges against Musa were dropped by the Court based on a motion filed by Musa Bility.

Cllr. Blamo: “You are aware and are also in notice of the court records available in your office that Bility filed a motion to dismiss the indictment for the Government’s failure to prosecute the case within two terms after indictment as is provided for under Section 18.2 of the Criminal Procedure Law. The Government vigorously resisted Bility’s motion, but the court granted Bility’s motion over the objection of the Government.

“You are aware and are also in notice of the court’s records available in your office, that the indictment against Co-defendant Melvin Johnson was never dropped/dismissed by the former Government. As a matter of fact, we filed a formal complaint against Melvin Johnson before the Georgia Bar of which he was a member and requested his extradition along with Cockrum.

“You are aware and are also in notice of the court records available in your office, that the indictment against Co-defendant Diaspora Consulting, LLC and Momar Dieng was never dropped/dismissed by the former Government.”

As it relates to LBDI, the bank pleaded not guilty, but later accepted to cooperate with the Government and serve as a witness in the case;

In consideration of and only on the basis that LBDI will cooperate and serve as witness in the case, the Government decided to enter Nolle Prosequi in favor of LBDI.

“You, Cllr. Cephas, served as one of several counsels for co-defendant LBDI at the time, and thus certainly know the consideration, purpose and object for which charges were dropped against LBDI; the object and purpose being far removed from that of a ‘selective prosecution,” she stated. 

The Breach

Court documents obtained by FrontPageAfrica has the signature of Cllr. Cephus on a motion for severance filed on behalf of LBDI on September 20, 2013. 

Subsequently in April 2016, Cllr. Cephas representing Ms. Corkrum again prayed the court for the dismissal of the case.

However, in a shocking move, Cllr. Cephas now in his capacity as Solicitor General, on February 2 prayed the court to issue a Writ of Ne Exeat Republica on all the defendants in the case, including those that he once defended in court – LBDI and Corkrum. Corkrum received a rousing welcome late January when she returned to Liberia after years of being on the run.

“… the magistrate having been duly satisfied upon an application filed by the plaintiff orders a Writ of Ne Exeat Republica issued.”

“You are hereby commanded to arrest the living body of Ellen Corkrum et al. defendants of the City of Monrovia, Montserrado County and be brought before this court.”

For Cllr. Bull, this is where the Grievance and Ethics Committee needs to step in. She deemed this action on the part of the Solicitor General as double standard.

“This is ridiculous for the practice of law and a lawyer shouldn’t act like that,” Cllr. Bull said. 

She said Cllr. Cephas should be investigated under Rule 8 and 9 of the Code for the Moral and Ethical Conduct of Lawyers.

Rule 8: “It is the duty of the lawyer at the time of retainer to disclose to the client all of the circumstances of his relations to the parties, if there be any and any interest in or connection with the controversy, which might influence the client in the selection of the counsel. It is unprofessional to represent conflicting interests.”

“Rule 9”: “Within the meaning of this rule, a lawyer represents conflicting interests when, on 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.”

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