11 January 2014

Liberia: Supreme Court Suspends Justice Minister, FPA Lawyer

In an unprecedented development, the Supreme Court of Liberia has adjudged Justice Minister Christiana Tah and Cllr. Beyan Howard guilty of contempt.

The high court suspended Minister Tah, who also doubles as Dean of the Supreme Court for six months while dealing a three-months suspension from practicing law to Cllr. Howard, a member of the legal team representing FrontPageAfrica's publisher Rodney Sieh.

In a ruling handed down by the court late Friday evening, the court cited the refusal of the Justice Minister who also doubles as Dean of the Supreme Court Bar to send the FrontPageAfrica editor to prison.

Legal analysts say, the suspension could lead to the dismissal of Minister Tah. Since the position of Justice Minister is reserved for a practicing lawyer, the six months suspension would mean Tah would not be able to sign documents on behalf of the government or represent the government of Liberia in any legal matter.

Attorney General Tah is also the direct legal adviser to the President of the Republic.

Cllr. Tah played a pivotal role in several concession agreements between Liberia and foreign firms, notably the petroleum agreement with Chevron ExxonMobil. Part of the Ministry's function is to procure proper evidence for, and conduct, prosecute, or defend all suits and proceedings in the courts in which the Republic or any officer thereof, as to such officer, is a party or may be interested; Institute all legal proceedings necessary for law enforcement.

The Ministry is also responsible to furnish opinions as to legal matters and render services requiring legal skills to the president and other agencies of the Executive Branch of Government. Oversee the codification of the Liberian Statutory Law; administer the laws relating to admission, deportation and naturalization of aliens, and the regulation of aliens within Liberia.

The Minister is also tasked with the to the extent stated in the Aliens and Nationality Law, administer laws relating to the admission, deportation and naturalization of aliens, and the regulations of aliens within Liberia; Supervise the activities of the National Bureau of Investigation, the National Central Bureau and the National Police Force and oversee all government activities relating to administration of the Vehicle and Traffic Law prevention and control of fires.

Last October, the Minister was summoned by the high court to show cause why she should not be held in contempt for releasing the then jailed Managing Editor of the FrontpageAfrica Newspaper, Mr. Rodney Sieh.

The Supreme Court, which is the final arbiter of Justice, termed the release of the journalist as a disregard of the Court's order even though his rights to seek medical treatment from time to time while in prison whenever necessary was not surrendered.

Prior to the hearing, the justice Minister justified her position, saying she acted in the confines of the law. Among other things, she added that the decision to release Journalist Sieh on 'compassionate' grounds forms part of her function as attorney-general of the country.

It can be recalled that on Tuesday, October 8, 2013, the Government of Liberia (GOL) through the Ministry of Justice granted Mr. Sieh a 'compassionate' leave for the period of 30 days effective as of October 8, 2013.

The Minister said the action was in keeping with Chapter 34, Section 34.20 of the Criminal Procedure Law, 1LCLR. According to Minister Tah, the government action was also based on a formal request by Cllr. Howard and Atty. J. Fonati Koffa.

However, Minister Tah advised that Mr. Sieh will not leave the city of Monrovia without first seeking the permission of the Assistant Minister for the Bureau of Corrections and Rehabilitation (BCR).

The FPA publisher was ordered jailed by the Civil Law last August because of his failure to pay the amount of US$1, 534,000.00 and L$10,500 to the former Agriculture Minister, Dr. Chris Toe for damages in a libel suit.

In addition, Mr. Sieh also failed to pay US$90,000 and L$6,800 as the cost of the court. It can be recalled that sometime ago, Dr. Toe sued the Management of FPA for libel.

Dr. Toe claimed the paper defamed his reputation when it published a series of articles linking him to corruption. According to him, the published articles against him were not based on facts.

FrontPageAfrica took an appeal to the Supreme Court of Liberia, but was unable to perfect the appeal bond. Based on the legal proceedings, the Supreme Court affirmed the lower court judgment and ordered the bail of Cost on the FPA.

Cllr. Christiana Tah officially assumed office of Minister of Justice and Attorney General on 13 July 2009, after her appointment by H.E. President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and confirmation by the Senate.

She is a member of the Supreme Court Bar of the Republic of Liberia since 1987 and of the American Bar Association since 1994. She practiced law as legal counsel with Maxwell and Maxwell Law offices in Monrovia in the realm of corporate law, labour law, banking and general international business transactions.

Minister Tah served as a professor in the Department of Sociology, Anthropology and Criminal Justice at Montgomery College, Maryland, USA. Previously, she taught at Morgan State University for several years, and was adjunct Professor of Corporative Justice System at the American University in the early nineties.

She is licensed to practice law in the State of Maryland. While in the US she worked with various Liberian community organizations and the United States government on acquiring and maintaining legal immigration status for Liberians nationals in the US.

She obtained a BA degree in Sociology from Carson-Newman College, an MA degree in Sociology (with specialization in Corrections) from Kent State University, a LLB degree from the University of Liberia and LLM degree from Yale Law School where she specialized in International Business Transactions.

In 2000, Cllr. Tah received an outstanding Teacher Award from the University of Maryland. She first joined the Liberian government in the mid seventies and served in various capacities at the Ministries of health, Justice and Finance. At the Ministry of Justice, she served as Asst. Minister for Corrections, the first Liberian to specialize in correction.

Executive Mansion sources tell FrontPageAfrica that the suspension came as a result of serious deliberations on the bench and background negotiations within the executive.

FrontPageAfrica has learned that Minister Tah has in recent weeks been subject to undermining from some of her principal deputies. One of those deputies, Benedict Sannoh, is said to be on a shortlist along with Sirleaf's legal advisor, Seward Cooper as a possible

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