21 April 2014

Liberia: No Longer a Judge - U.S. Court Fires Corkrum Beau, Melvin

Monrovia — Judge Melvin Johnson, the other half of the pair which has been terrorizing the Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf government with a series of secretly-recorded tapes of senior administration officials, has been dismissed as a judge in the U.S. state of Lithonia, Georgia.

The Atlanta-based On Common Ground web publication is reporting that Johnson was terminated by the city of Lithonia after learning he was not certified to preside over the city's cases. Johnson, who was removed a few weeks ago, had served in his position with the city for seven years.

The paper reports that Johnson repeatedly failed to complete the annual training for judges as required by state law, according to the Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC). The JQC notified Johnson in a Jan. 13 letter that it was barring him from his judicial duties because he failed to receive required training in 2009, 2011, 2012 and 2013.

Last February, the Liberia Airport Authority (LAA) pursued legal action against Corkrum and Johnson, the former Managing Director of the airport authority, who is at the center of a major corruption case.

Corkrum was tipped by President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf to become the first female Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of Liberia. Despite the reports, US authorities have been tightlipped about the indictment reports on Corkrum and Johnson.

Corkrum and Johnson were indicted by the Liberian government last year for "economic sabotage," and wanted for extradition from the United States. But the pair says the allegations against them and his alleged collaborators are false and unfounded.

Johnson and Corkrum claim they have assembled hundreds of pages of documents and email correspondence that would prove their case and have been unleashing them in bits and pieces.

Over the past few years the pair secretly-released senior government officials, including President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, when they learned of a plot by government officials to undermine their anti-corruption measures.

Johnson told the Voice of America in January that he and Corkrum were told by Defense Minister Brownie Samukai that certain government officials, including the Finance Minister, Amara Konneh, and Minister of State for Presidential Affairs, Edward McClain, "wanted unfettered access to $130 million that was slated for airport renovation."

The Liberian government says Corkrum and Johnson stole over $1 million and fled the country. Justice Minister Christiana Tah confirmed to VOA that the government has indicted the pair and asked the US government to extradite them.

President Sirleaf, in her State of the Nation speech on January 27, said of Corkrum: "A major setback in efforts for the development of the airport resulted from an unscrupulous and conspiring newly recruited Managing Director, who returned kindness and deference with entrapment and intriguing accusations to damage the credibility of several individuals, and the image of the country. This matter is under review by counsel in the United States for legal redress, including extradition."

Johnson said the charges are bogus and are an attempt by the government to cover up what he calls "the embarrassing revelations" contained in the secret recordings made of government officials and others.

The pair have described the government's claims as unfounded.

It is unclear how Johnson's dismissal will affect future release of secret tapes, but the U.S. publication cites his failure to take the training "reflects a status of being chronically deficient in complying," said Richard Reaves, executive director of the state's Institute of Continuing Judicial Education. "The law says you must take the training to keep your judicial certification. Our records show he (Johnson) didn't do that."

Reaves is quoted as saying that Johnson was given several opportunities to take the training, but always fell short. As an example, Johnson attended one course but paid for it with a check that bounced. Another time, he took eight hours of a 12-hour course. He ignored several grace periods as well, Reaves aid.

Johnson disputes that he failed to complete the training for a four-year period. He said he is deficient for one year--2012--because he was ill. He said after he mailed a check for the course, his check was sent back to him and he assumed that he didn't have to take the course.

"The whole thing is a big misunderstanding. I don't think he JQC would let any one go four years without the training," Johnson said. "The board is saying that it sent me notices, but I never received the notices. I wouldn't have ignored them.'

Johnson said he is appealing the decision and hopes to go before the JQC in March. Meanwhile, the city of Lithonia has launched an investigation into the funds that were paid to Johnson to take the annual.

"It is my understanding that the city paid for the training. We don't know why that didn't happen," said Lithonia Mayor Deborah Jackson.

Jackson said the city terminated Johnson as soon as it learned he had not taken the required annual courses.

"We took care of it immediately. We can't afford to have the city exposed," said Jackson, who has temporarily hired Associate Judge Latisha Dear and Associate Magistrate Judge Curtis Miller. Jackson said the city is seeking to hire a replacement for Johnson and putting out a request for qualification.

Reaves said because Johnson was not certified, his rulings in 2013 potentially could be voided, if challenged.

Johnson, who is a Liberian American, is not only dealing with problems concerning Lithonia. The Liberian government has indicted Johnson and Ellen Corkrum, another Liberian American, for "economic sabotage." The government says that Johnson, who was working as a legal advisor in Liberia, and Corkrum, who was managing director of the Liberian Airport Authority, stole over $1 million and fled the country. Both are awaiting extradition from the U.S. to Liberia.

Johnson maintains the allegations are false. He said the charges are an attempt by the government to cover up corruption at the airport.

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