18 April 2013

Liberia: Filling Cllr. Johnny Lewis' Shoes - Can CJ Korkpor Fill the Void?


The Supreme Court of Liberia has come to experience yet another new face at least at the highest level. Cllr. Francis Korkpor has been Ad Interim Chief Justice for some time now. That determination became essentially necessary after ailing Chief Justice, Johnny Lewis ran into incapacity difficulties.

The former Catholic Justice Development and Peace Commission's Director comes to the forefront at a time when expectations are high as to the expeditious and speedy adjudication of cases. The opinions of the Honorable Supreme Court remain critical and imperative as we make gradual strides towards judicial reforms. How realistic that could be is another matter folks.

In a democracy, the real test of the worth of any Supreme Court is its ability to remain above the fray to impartially and independently dispense justice irrespective of who is involved. Arguably, the law should not only be seen but must constitute no respecter of anyone as no one is above the law. A truly reformed judicial is the beginning and end of justice delay tendency, which obviously translates into justice denied.

As we trickle our energies to make justice delivery a priority in this country - Cllr. Korkpor must see himself not as any Chief Justice but a quite thoughtful, legal-minded expert - who comes to his new job with wealth of experience; a man who will demand to see all sides to every question and herald the truth as the basis of a refined a respectable legal system. Retired Chief Justice Johnny Lewis made a distinguished career as head of the highest court of arbitration in the land. Cllr. Lewis took over the Supreme Court when the system was in need of complete overhaul folks.

While as a human person we cannot attach perfection to his persona - his first major priority was to embark on the total rehabilitation of the Temple of Justice. Today, Liberians are indeed proud of a structure that had attained the looks of some antiquity being transformed. A completely refurbished Temple of Justice has given this country something to smile about. To dispense justice judiciously a new court building has been built on the grounds of the Temple of Justice. Johnny Lewis has added some impetus to the work of judges and succeeded in assigning Circuit Judges and magistrates assigned vehicles.

He set to establish the James A. A. Pierre Judicial Institute, which has been training paralegal personnel - some of whom have already been posted around the country. John Lewis did not only sit at his office at the temple of Justice - he made county tours to appreciate existing conditions pertaining to the judiciary. He spearheaded the building of war-destroyed circuit courts and built new magisterial complexes across the country.

Cllr. Johnny Lewis has always been a fearless man as demonstrated by the content of his character. There were few odd memorable moments too about the former Chief Justice. He was of man of jurisdictional authority. Johnny Lewis was quite enraged when a visiting Europe delegation showed up at the Temple of Justice without prior notice and as the Brits would say - he gave the delegation an unwelcomed dressing down. It might have impacted on our national character but did he give a damn?

When he controversially erected speed breakers before his Sinkor residence - there was public outcry but he was never moved by such noise in the usual marketplace folks. When UNMIL personnel sought to question the authority of the Chief Justice while en route to his hometown in Sinoe via the James Spriggs Payne Airport, he was instantly chastised by His Honor, Johnny Lewis. Johnny Lewis had one major challenge to his authority legally. That was when he attempted to relieve the great James Zota of his post as Judge of Criminal Court A at the Temple of Justice. Zota brilliantly replied in an opened letter to the Chief Justice, which was published in a number of local dailies. Zota's letter prompted an article we penned entitled: "What Manner of Man Is James Zota"? The learned lawyer remains one of our foremost fire-burn cum no nonsense legal wits in this country.

Cllr. Johnny Lewis also left a memorable reflection on some Liberian journalists. For the members of the Fourth Estate - it was an unusual encounter for Chief Justice Lewis to have invited them into the comfort of his posh office at the Temple of Justice. What kind of event were the media folks invited to cover. It was an entirely different ball game folks. No one had the slightest gumption about why the number one man at the Temple of Justice had assembled the Judicial Press corps. Johnny Lewis had noticed a repeated misspelling of his name and wanted to give the journalists some special tutorials. Interestingly, as though a bunch of Kindergarten pupils had gathered - to the delight of their teacher - the process of learning by playing became the order of the day.

Mind you, he started by calling aloud every letter in his full name as the journalists repeated after him. Hmm! Did anyone ask any question? No one dare ask! They all retreated to their bases where they thought they had the freedom to criticize the former Chief Justice. But the Chief Justice stole the show. Even our good friend Joe Roberts was part of the chorus at the temple of Justice folks. Did it really matter? Cllr. Lewis has served his country dutifully although sometimes with controversial imprints. No history portrays an entirely rosy version any way.

Now that Cllr. Francis Korkpor has been named Chief Justice by the President - we look to the Liberian Senate Committee on Judiciary to proceed with the grilling or necessary autopsy to pass its verdict. What else can we expect? We expect nothing short of due diligence folks on the part of our distinguished lawmakers. We do not anticipate the Chea Cheapo-styled grilling of 1986 before the senate.

The tasks before Cllr. Francis Korkpor remain huge but the decision to repose such confidence in him was based on a number of considerations. As Ad Interim Chief Justice, Cllr. Korkpor flexed his muscles when he hit the nail in the coffin of Cllr. Marcus Jones who will be out of legal practice for five years. Isn't that too harsh? What would Jones have done if he was in the shoes of Cllr. Korkpor?

The former presidential candidate will be on forced sabbatical as it were. Although Cllr. Marcus Jones believes the sentence initially recommended by Cllr. Pearl Browne-Bull was for a year, for now it is all crocodile's tears or simply preaching to the choir. Taking off from where Cllr Johnny Lewis stopped will be the best the Chief Justice-designate can offer in this country. But it is only time that will tell where he stands in taking the judiciary to another - amid the dozens cases still pending in our dockets. Justice delay - undeniably constitutes justice denied.

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