4 August 2017

Liberia: Supreme Court Justices Risk Impeachment

Photo: The New Dawn
The Supreme Court of Liberia.

Some members of the Liberian Legislature have commenced impeachment process against Supreme Court Justices Kabineh Ja'Neh, Jamesetta Howard Wolokolie and Philip A.Z. Banks for alleged ethical breach.

Lawmakers behind the campaign include Senators H. Dan Morais of Maryland County, Peter S. Coleman of Grand Kru County, and Jim Tornola of Margibi County, respectively. Others are Representatives Numene Bartekwa of Grand Kru County and George S. Mulbah of Bong County from the lower House.

According to them, the three Justices are in gross violation of their oaths of office by engaging in alleged misconduct, gross breach of duty and exhibiting clear inability to perform the functions of their respective offices as Associate Justices.

They explain that their petition arises out of the most recent decisions of the Supreme Court in which the three Justices by their opinions and judgments in cases involving the Code of Conduct enacted by the Liberian Legislature in May 2014, sought and did effectively usurp the powers and authority of the Legislature to make law and thereby made ineffective and virtually null and void the CoC.

In a communication signed by the lawmakers and read in plenary on Thursday, 3rd August in Monrovia the lawmakers petitioned the House of Representatives to cite Justices Ja'Neh, Wolokolie, and Banks to show cause if any, why they should not be impeached and removed from their offices as Associate Justices of the Supreme Court.

The petitioners argue that in the case of Assistant Minister Abu Kamara, who filed his application for certification with the National Elections Commission to contest in the October elections, the Supreme Court ruled that the Code of Conduct was applicable to him and that his disqualification by the NEC was valid and legally binding.

They explain that in the case Aspirant Abu Kamara, who was a sitting Assistant Minister at the time he filed his application with the National Elections Commission to contest in the October 2017 elections, the Supreme Court ruled that the Code of Conduct was applicable to him and that his disqualification by the NEC was valid and legally binding.

"The Supreme Court held that [Mr.] Kamara's violation of the Code of Conduct was 'egregious' since he continued to hold the public office at the time he applied for certification to contest the Presidential and General Elections of October 10, 2017", the petition reads..

They further note that in the case of Liberty Party Vice Standard Bearer, Harrison Karnwea, formerly Managing Director of the Liberia Forestry Authority, who did not resign his office two years before the impending elections as was required, the Supreme Court held that the Code of Court held that the Code of Conduct was not applicable to him, and therefore, overruled in substance the declaration of ineligibility made by the National Elections Commission against Karnwea for violation of the Code of Conduct.

Mr. Karnwea actually resigned his government post in March 2017.

The protesting lawmakers explain that the Supreme Court then tried to distinguished the Abu Kamara case from the Harrison S. Karnwea case by saying that the violation of the Code of Conduct by Harrison S, Karnwea was not of an egregious magnitude as to warrant rejection of his application to the National Elections Commission for certification to run as vice presidential running mate on the ticket of the Liberty Party.

The petitioners argue that the Respondents, as the three (3) members of the Supreme Court, who signed the opinion and judgement of July 20, 2017 in the Harrison S. Karnwea case, have caused the Supreme Court to usurp the power and functions of the Legislature to make laws. "That is, by ignoring the two (2) or three (3) period for a person holding a public office to resign his office before the date of the election for which he or she intends to canvass and by reducing such period to a mere 'resignation before filing an application for certification with the National Elections Commission' the Supreme Court has made a new law and undermined the effectiveness of the Code of Conduct", they further argue.

"Simply stated", they maintain, "The Supreme Court has usurped the functions and powers of the Legislature to make law. This conduct of the Respondents, as majority members of the Supreme Court constitutes misconduct, gross breach of duty and inability to perform the functions of the office of Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, for which the Liberian Constitution provides that impeachment, will lie." Meanwhile, the document has been forwarded to the House of Representatives' Committee on Judiciary to report to plenary next Thursday, 10 August.

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