Liberia: Chief Justice Korkpor Gets Agitated as Bar President References ‘Illegal Impeachment’ of Former Justice Kabineh Ja’neh

Chief Justice Francis S. Korkpor, Sr.

Monrovia – The Honorable Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Liberia, Mr. Francis S. Korkpor, Monday, May 20, lost his cool when he sharply clamped down on Cllr. Tiawan Gongloe as he made remarks on behalf the Liberian National Bar Association (LNBA) at the official program for the seating of the new Associate Justice, Justice Yussif D. Kaba.

Report by Alaskai Moore Johnson, [email protected] & Kennedy L. Yangian, [email protected]

It was like a drama yesterday when Cllr. Gongloe was forced to descend the podium when he heard the banging of the Chief Justice’s desk by that powerful piece of wood— gavel.

The Bar President, Cllr. Gongloe, and Justice Minister Musah Dean were two officials selected to make remarks at the seating program of the new Associate Justice. Justice Kaba was replacing impeached former Associate Justice Kabineh Mohammed Ja’neh.

Upon hearing the sounds of the gavel being banged against the desk by the Chief Justice, Cllr. Gongloe stopped and turned to see and quietly retired to his seat

As he spoke, Cllr. Gongloe was hijacked in flight when he stated that the LNBA maintains that the impeachment proceedings against former Associate Justice Ja’neh was “unconstitutional and a product of violation of a court order.”

“The Senate violated Article 73 of the Constitution. The removal of a Justice for performing a legal justice creates a precedent that has the potential of making other judges, especially of subordinate courts to be afraid to freely perform their legal duties when it comes to cases in which the interest of government or powerful persons or entities are involved thereby defeating the purpose for which courts exist in our system of government,” Cllr. Gongloe said.

As soon as the Bar President had made this statement, which is on page one of a three-page speech, the Chief Justice banged his desk with the gavel, which signaled to the learned Cllr. Gongloe that he should immediately stop. So, he didn’t deliver his full speech, which included a caution to the Full Bench of the Supreme Court to standup in defense of the rights of each other against any illegal action from the Executive or the Legislature.

Chief Justice Korkpor said the Bar President was asked to come and speak on the seating of the new Associate Justice, which was the theme of the occasion.

“If you did not come here to speak for this cause it was better for you to have stayed away. No one spoke about Ja’neh in this Court. If you continue to exhibit this attitude, we will not allow you to speak at court opening. As a lawyer, the other day you came here and said the Court was responsible for the deaths of 250,000 people during the civil conflict. This was unfair to us. Your action is provocative; stop and sit down!” Chief Justice Korkpor ordered. Cllr. Gongloe respectfully stated: “Thank you, Your Honor,” and he retired to his seat, which was in the front row of the court.  

Associate Justice Yussif D. Kaba becomes the new Member of the five-person Supreme Court Bench in Liberia

One lawyer told FrontPageAfrica outside the Supreme Court after the program: “This is disgraceful to Liberia; the Chief Justice, who should be the main protector of the right to speak freely, is now a dictator and is barring Freedom of Speech and of Expression.”

However, outside the court, Cllr. Gongloe defiantly told judicial journalists that the LNBA, as an umbrella organization for all lawyers practicing in the country, still maintains its stance on the Ja’neh impeachment proceedings.

Monday’s statement was Cllr, Gongloe’s second open condemnation in the Chamber of the Supreme Court over the impeachment of the former Associate Justice.

Ja’neh’s impeachment was initiated by two lawmakers — Representatives Moses Acarous Gray (District #8) and Thomas P. Fallah (District $5) — from the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC).

Both lawmakers had called for the impeachment of Associate Justice Ja’neh for alleged corruption and misuse of judicial function among other charges, all of which Cllr. Ja’neh has consistently denied. The Senate, however, through a majority vote, removed him.

In March of 2019, during the opening of the March 2019 Term of the Supreme Court, Cllr Gongloe, when called to make remarks, stated   the impeachment proceeding against Justice Ja’neh was a product of Constitutional violations and that the Chief Justice chose to preside over a proceeding marked by constitutional violations.

Justice Minister Frank Musah Dean also spoke at the ocassion

Prior to Cllr. Gongloe’s statement against the Supreme Court, Chief Justice Korkpor had maintained in his charge for the same opening of the March 2019 Term of the high court that Article 43 of the Constitution, gives him the power to preside over the impeachment of Associate Justice and that he expected those making criticisms against him for presiding over the proceeding to know that he was performing a constitutional requirement.

Article 43 of the 1986 Constitution provides that in the case of the impeachment of the President, Vice President, Associate Justices and Judges of subordinate courts, the Chief Justice presides over the proceedings.

Despite the unfolded drama that ensued between the Chief Justice and the LNBA President, Associate Justice Yussif Kaba still took his new position from a judge in one of the lower courts to one of five powerful persons in the nation’s Judiciary.

However, in the Chamber of the Supreme Court, where the program was held, lawmakers were conspicuously absent as none attended and there was no reason provided given that their action brought about the change in the sitting arrangements of the Associate Justices on the Supreme Court Bench.

Before the formal tradition for the ushering in of a new justice was performed, Associate Justice Jamesetta Howard Wolokolie previously the third will now sit as number two person on the immediate right of the Chief Justice, Associate Justice Sie A Nyene Youh formerly the fourth person on the Bench, will now sit as the third person on the immediate left of the Chief Justice while Associate Justice James Nagbe now sits as the fourth person on the right extreme of Chief Justice Korkpor. The new Associate Justice, Kaba, even though he replaced the former Justice Ja’neh, who was number two, will now occupy the fifth position on the extreme left of the Chief Justice.

As Kaba officially took his seat, Chief Justice Korkpor welcomed him to the Bench as the newest Associate Justice, who had ascended to the Supreme Bench after serving with distinction for many years at the lower court.

Justice Kaba’s last assignment was him being the Resident Judge of the Sixth Judicial Circuit Court at the Temple of Justice. He occupied this position until he was nominated by President George Weah and confirmed by the Liberian Senate.

“Associate Justice Kaba knows the working of the Supreme Court. He once served the Supreme Court as Chief Justice of the Ad-hoc Justice during the interim leadership in 2005. His preferment should be a motivating factor for other judges, therefore you have to watch out carefully on the kind of judgment you make,” said Chief Justice Korkpor.

Associate Justice Yussif Kaba now replaced for Associate Justice Kabineh M. Ja’neh

Associate Justice Kaba claimed that he has been a judge for 21 years. He paid tribute to few persons, including his mother, who was present at the occasion, former Chief Justice Gloria Scott and former Solicitor General M. Wilkins Wright. According to him, these people and many others, played meaningful roles throughout his professional sojourn to ascend to where he now finds himself.

Kaba promised to uphold the Constitution and that of the independence of the Judiciary. This call has been continually made by legal pundits and Liberia’s foreign development partners. They have always maintained that judicial independence is a cardinal tool toward fostering a genuine democracy. “The destiny of every man is decided by the Almighty God, as an Associate Justice, I will continue to work with all lawyers while on this Bench.