Former Liberian-American Judge Melvin Johnson has disputed a news report he was fired from his post in Lithonia, Georgia. Johnson said he made a "conscious choice" to spend his time fighting corruption in Liberia.
He is one of two Liberian-Americans indicted by the Liberian government for "economic sabotage" last year. Monrovia is seeking their extradition from the United States. He and his partner, Ellen Corkrum, secretly recorded senior Liberian government officials, including President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, to prove their allegation of corruption within the government.
The Atlanta-based Internet publication On Common Ground reported that Johnson was terminated from his position after repeatedly failing to complete the annual training for judges, as required by state law. Johnson said the article contained false information and the author has promised to retract it.
"I read the On Common Ground article, and [it] wasn't truthful in a lot of ways. I tried contacting the author of the article. A colleague, a lawyer friend of mine, representing me in Liberia also contacted the author of the article. That author admitted that there were things in it that were false. The author apologized and promised to retract the article," he said.
After serving as a judge for seven years in Georgia, Johnson said he made a "conscious effort" to focus on other areas of interest.
"Essentially. I did. I served for seven years and I took on a cause in Liberia that consumed my time, and I no longer was able to spend the requisite time here in Lithonia," Johnson said.
The On Common Ground article reportedly said Johnson was terminated after officials learned he repeatedly failed to complete the annual training for judges, as required by state law. But, Johnson said, if what the publication said was true, state officials responsible for monitoring his judicial license should be in trouble and not him.
"Anybody that has any experience with the system here in the US can attest that no governmental body will allow you to go five years when you're required to annually renew your license. If that were true, I wouldn't be the one getting in trouble. Those that work for the state that would have allowed it to go five years would have been the ones getting in trouble," Johnson said.
Johnson said he and his partner, Ellen Corkrum, began secretly recording senior government officials, including President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, when they learned of a plot by government officials to undermine their anti-corruption measures. He said now that he is no longer a judge, he will spend more time fighting against corruption in Liberia.
"Absolutely, this will allow me to do more [of] that now. Of course, currently we're engaged in this cause to bring liberation to our people, to bring equality, to bring a halt to the corruption, more specifically to the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf government and the corruption clique that has been described by her own officials," Johnson said.
He said he sees a correlation between the end of his judgeship and his anti-corruption efforts in Liberia, although he did not disclose any specific information to prove such a correlation.
"I have seen documentation; I have had conversations with different people on different levels here in the US, those conversations I'm not privy [to]. But, it's been very clear [that], once we started exposing corruption in Liberia, once we started to bring an end to the 'ghost employees' phenomenon, it became very clear that the president and her group had a witch hunt for me and Ellen Corkrum," he said.
Liberian Justice Minister Christiana Tah told VOA last December that Johnson and his alleged co-conspirators had been indicted and that the Liberian government had asked the US government to extradite both Johnson and Corkrum.
Tah refused to discuss the merits of the case because "it's before the court." But, Johnson said US government officials have yet to approach him and Corkrum about any extradition. "We've always known that there wasn't going to be any extradition. So, nobody has contacted us and we're not expecting anybody to contact us," Johnson said.
Johnson said he and Corkrum have more secret recordings of people in government, including President Sirleaf. He said they were holding on to the recordings and hopes to play them in US courts, if the alleged request for extradition had become a reality. He said now that there are going to be no extradition proceedings; they will release the remaining recordings.
"What we decided to do was to hold on to the more damning recordings in an effort to see if this extradition threat was going to be fulfilled. Our hope was that, if it were going to be fulfilled [in] the US court here in a public manner, with the US press, with the international press listening, it would have afforded us a perfect opportunity to play those recordings in the open court," Johnson said.