22 February 2013

Liberia: 'Tearful But Needed Verdicts' - Public Reacts to Leading Lawyers' Ban

The country's final arbiter of justice, the Supreme Court, yesterday disrobed, for specific periods, two of Liberia's legal luminaries, one a Circuit Court judge and the other private lawyer, for varying actions found to be at variance with canons of the legal profession. As is often the case, the public is divided, with more respondents to The Analyst's roving interview asserting that the Court's verdicts however sorrowful were necessary to instill some order and sanity in the legal sector of the country.

The Supreme Court of Liberia recently brought down opinions on a couple of landmark cases, among them verdicts sanctioning two of its kin for acts inimical to the practice of law. The sentences, according to report, have no common roots but akin in their floating of ethics governing the legal profession.

Jones' 5-year sentence

Marcus R. Jones, one of Liberia's outstanding private lawyer and former presidential candidate, has been slapped with a five-year ban from law practice. The Supreme Court of Liberia took the decision against Jones based on a recommendation of the Grievance and Ethics Committee of the lawyers' association of Liberia.

Rev. Eric M. Allison had complained Cllr. Jones to the Committee over the lawyer's handling of case in which the Reverend who was Jone's clientele reported that he was not satisfied with how Cllr Jones handled the matter.

The case rose to become a Jones and the Ethics Committee's contestation when the Counselor challenged the decision of the Committee on grounds that it was not fair.

Though the report of the Grievance and Ethics Committee recommended penalty for the ethical transgressions committed by Cllr. Jones, the Supreme Court endorsed the recommendation with modifications to the effect of suspending him from the practice of law directly and indirectly in Liberia for the period of five (5) years.

The Supreme Court further ordered the learned legal practitioner to pay the amount of US$62,130 to Rev. Allison and his children within three months as of the date of the delivery of this opinion, further ordering that Jone's failure to comply will increase his penalty from suspension total disbarment.

"The Clerk of this Court is ordered to send a mandate to all courts of the Republic information them of this judgment and to have Counsellor Jones` similarly informed of this judgment; to have all of the appropriate authorities informed to ensure compliance with the judgment of this Court and that they will act consistent with law. Costs are disallowed. It is so ordered," the Supreme said in its verdict.

When the case was called for hearing, the Court said, Counselors Emmanuel B. James and Cooper W. Kruah appeared  as amici curiae and Counselor Marcus R. Jones appeared prose.

"After a careful examination of the records in the proceeding of the Grievance and Ethics Committee, the position of the Amicius Curiae, and the legal argument presented by Counselor Marcus R. Jones who represented himself, and after considering the laws controlling," the Court opined, "Counselor Marcus R. Jones did not conduct himself in a professional manner as expected of a lawyer in this jurisdiction while handling the death claim of Rev. Eric M. Allison's wife."

The Court said Jones "committed serious ethnical and professional misconduct against his client. He mishandled, comingled and misapplied his client's money, thereby violating Rule 15, Code for the Moral and Ethical Conduct of Lawyers."

Cllr Jones represented himself before the Court Court.

6-Month for Judge Koroi Nuta

In a related development, the Supreme Court has also suspended another Liberian legal practitioner, Judge Korboi Nuta, for a six month period for what the Court described "glaring misconduct."

The Court's decision followed the consideration of  the Judicial Inquiry Commission's findings and recommendations as well as arguments advanced by the respondent judge during hearing before the Supreme Court which noted that Judge Nuta showed no remorse in the face of  some "glaring misconduct; and being convinced that the findings of the Judicial Inquiry Commission as well as its recommendation, further supported by the Amici Curiae, to the effect that the respondent judge is in breach of ethical standards, said report and recommendation are hereby approved and confirmed."

Consequently, the Supreme Cour further said, "Judge Korboi Nuta is hereby ordered suspended as a Circuit Court Judge for a period of six (6) calendar months. It is further our holding that during the period of his suspension, Judge Nuta will forfeit all salaries, benefits and other emoluments to which he would otherwise be entitled."

The Court says it holds that should the Respondent Judge in the future be guilty of any proven violation of the Judicial Canon in breach of his oath of office, the Court shall proceed to make the appropriate recommendations for his permanent removal from office as a judge.

The Supreme Court ordered the Clerk of Court to send a mandate to all courts of The Republic informing them of this judgment, to have the respondent judge similarly informed of this judgment and decision; and to have all of the appropriate authorities informed to ensure compliance with the judgment of this Court and that they will act consistent with law.

The Court says when this case was called for hearing, Counselors Emmanuel B. James and Cooper W. Kruah, appeared as Amid Curiae, while Counselors J. Lavela Supuwood and Lavela Koboi Johnson, appeared for the appellee.

Both opinions were signed by Associate Justices Jabineh M. Ja'neh, Jamesetta Howard Wolokollie and Philip A. Z. Banks, III.

Public Reacts

In roving interviews with members of the public, it was gathered that more Liberians praised the Supreme Court and the Grievance and Ethics Committee for their boldness in rendering the verdicts.

Though some say the ban orders are harsh and "tearful", they same such is need for the legal profession which has attracted enormous criticism for transgressions.

"Not too many professions have the gut to punish their indiscipline members," said Timothy Manteh, Jr., a university student, who contends that the debauched character of the judiciary is underpinned by lawyers misdemeanors.

"Surely the judgments of the Court against the outstanding legal practitioners will serve deterrence for others who think the law's association and the Court are toothless bulldog."

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