21 February 2013

Liberia: Cllr. Jones Gets Five Years Suspension

The Supreme Court of Liberia has adjourned for its October 2012 term of court with several opinions handed down and judgments rendered against legal practitioners operating in courts across the country which it said are exposing the judicial system to disrepute. The court resumes second working Monday in next month.

The highest court of the land opinion yesterday ordered a legal consultant of the Jones & Associates Law Firm, Marcus R. Jones, to restitute in three months the total amount of US$62, 130 established to be in his possession to Reverend Eric Allison, a senior pastor of the Bardnersville Lutheran Church.

The Supreme Court further ruled that Cllr. Jones who is a professor of law at the Lewis Arthur Grimes School of Law be suspended for at least five years from practice directly or indirectly and if up to such time he still does not produce Rev. Allison's money, that punishment constitutes disbarment.

The Supreme Court's judgment is in line with a recommendation sent to that bench for review by the Grievance and Ethics Committee requesting that Cllr. Jones be barred from practice of law for at least one year until such time when he shall have made available the money placed in his possession by his senior pastor.

During the review by the high court, Cllr. Jones who is also a former president of the Liberia National Bar Association begged the Supreme Court to tamper justice with mercy admitting that he acted not based on an 'attorney/client' relationship but as a senior evangelist in the Bardnersville Lutheran Church, of which Allison is his senior pastor.

Although he justified his action apparently because of his ability to administer the law as he previously served as County Attorney and Acting Solicitor General, Cllr. Jones relied that his action being done in good faith was backed by instructions from his reverend.

He admitted before the full bench of the Supreme Court that he used some of the US$62,229.98 entrusted to him by his reverend to foot his bills during the just ended elections even though he had already deducted his 33 percent legal service fees.

He further explained before the Committee and also the full bench of how he placed Rev. Allison's money in his personal check account instead of opening a savings account and that he was unable to state exactly how much was left in said account but from what he thinks the approximate amount should be in a tune of US$40,000.

The Grievance and Ethics Committee's recommendations among other things called for the suspension of Cllr. Jones from legal practices in the country for one year and until such time he is made to pay the full amount of US$62,229.98.

But, Cllr. Jones even pleaded with the bench by saying, "I want this court to be kind enough in handling the matter, taking into consideration the time that Rev. Allison requested the US$17,000, was just when the national elections had ended."

Rev. Allison lost his wife Amelia Allison in a Kenya Airways plane crash on January 30, 2000 and being that Cllr. Jones holds a senior position in the church and with his vast legal knowledge, he volunteered not as a lawyer of the Jones & Associates through Cllr. Jones who should have been contracted and terms of legal services provided his client, instead as a senior evangelist in whom the pastor had reposed great confidence.

Cllr. Jones successfully negotiated for an amount of US$182,000 with the Airways for the benefits of Rev. Allison and his three children, an action which was done out of court with no cost to the counselor except that he told the court that he made several telephone calls while in Ivory Cost and at home pursuing settlement into the matter.

Upon receipt of the said amount, Cllr. Jones requested a 33 percent as his legal fee which was accepted by Rev. Allison also in good faith although it was not initially negotiated however, Cllr. Jones, being a respected lawyer, failed to promptly account for the balance of US$62,229.98 his client had entrusted him with to the extent that at a point in time, he even issued the Reverend bad check and or refused to give him his own money upon prompt request.

In its in-house cleaning process, the Supreme Court has also barred Atty. James K. Saybay of the Gbarnga, Bong County jurisdiction from practicing law directly or indirectly for a period of one year, a punishment which is in line with the recommendation of the Grievance and Ethics Committee.

Atty. Saybay's problem began when he entered a land sale deal with one Mark Thomas at which time he decided to give his parcel of land on the Ganta-Gbarnga Highway containing two unfinished houses to Mark for US$12,000. Mark paid him US$9,000 up front and promised to pay the balance of US$3,000 in two weeks.

Following some time, Mark could no longer interface with the attorney to pay the balance and get his deed but on a fateful day, he contacted Atty. Saybay and engaged him saying that he was prepared to settle his balance obligation and get his land but Atty. Saybay refused on grounds that he had changed his mind.

Mark being tired of being misled took his complaint to the then Chief Justice, Johnnie Lewis who transferred him to the Grievance and Ethics Committee chaired by Cllr. Pearl Brown Bull.

The court has also suspended Resident Circuit Judge of Criminal Court "B" Korboi Nuta for six month without pay, allowances and all other amenities that are provided to a judge. This decision is against a complaint filed to the Judicial Inquiry Commission (JIC) since February, 2012 involving a resident of the Bong Mines Bridge, Stanley Y. Suah.

When the review of the case was heard by the full bench, the basis of Judge Nuta's legal representative was that there was no evidence that he acted with dishonesty but the high court said Judge Nuta's action in the matter at bar proved him to be a shady character.

The legal counsel of Judge Nuta told the court in their brief that the recommendation made to that bench by the JIC was not about the money but time describing the case as an economic exercise because Suah had been given his deed while Judge Nuta was refunded for securing the land documents from the loan club.

Judge Nuta's claim was that the money loaned Suah was from a club and within the 12 months it had accrued full interests and the action of Judge Nuta by rescuing a neighbor should not be described as doing business yet the Supreme Court termed it as 'business pursuit' which is disallowed under the code governing judges.

They further informed the court that Judge Nuta acted in good faith until the matter became controversial and he was simply helping a neighbor but the friend of court's brief informed the court that Nuta being a lawyer had to do everything to defend himself.

The investigation Commission informed the court that Judge Nuta acted in violation of Canon #6 while the high Court further accused Judge Nuta of showing no remorse before the JIC but the judge said he breached no ethical transgression.

This case is about Suah who was greatly in need of LD42, 000 and went to his neighbor, Judge Nuta pleading with him to credit same. Nuta thinking that he was helping a neighbor in good faith, credited him the amount but instead of giving him the needed amount, he gave only LD31,000 with an amount of LD11,000 deducted as interest up front.

He did not take Suah to the loan club to stand as middle person against the collateral of the land deeds given to him by Suah or to allow Suah agree in person to the terms of the club that warrants creditors being given funds instead he told the JIC that he added his own deed to the deeds provided for Suah so that the money can be provided. However, Judge Nuta said the accrued interest put the amount owed by Suah to US$142,000 which the court said was unrealistic.

For Judge Emery Paye, the Supreme Court has rendered a period of six months suspension and script off his vehicle and all amenities for entering into a judgment of default, failure to meet standards of the judicial canon and for being off course in handling the law.

The high court accused Judge Paye of being in violation of canon 8, 9 and 10; he did not promote justice in that he failed to exercise due course because on the same day he disposed of the issues of law, on the same day he conducted jury trial, on the same day he brought down his judgment having failed to apply constitutional rights knowing that he ruled a trial by jury.

The high court said the judge should have known the law that during a jury hearing, judgment of the court is heard four days after and he should have filed an action and decide the case since one party was already dead instead he relied on returns made when services made was to a dead person.

Judge Paye was handling a case that had dangled since 1968 under the Tolbert regime and he unsuccessfully passed on through other regimes since then up to 2005 when T.C Gould then Solicitor General picked the case and called for a conference with Cecelia H. Daniels and one Rev. Chauncey Karngar. When Cllr. Gould was leaving his post, he reassigned the case.

In the wisdom of the court, the Grievance and Ethics Committee should have conducted an investigation with T.C. Gould. However, the Supreme Court reversed the Committee's recommendation against Judge Paye and suspended him reminding him that for next offence he shall be removed from office. Meanwhile, all punitive measures against the judges and lawyers take immediate effect.

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