9 August 2017

Liberia: Impeachment Imminent?

The House of Representatives has endorsed decision from its judiciary committee to suspend its rules regarding the impeachment process of three associate justices of the Supreme Court bench.

Following a petition of impeachment for Justices Kabineh Ja'neh, Jamesetta Howard-Wolokollie and Philip AZ Bank, III over their reported breach of oath of office regarding the National Code of Conduct involving Harrison Karnwea of the Liberty Party versus National Elections Commission, the plenary mandated its committee on judiciary to handle the situation and report in one week.

Senators Dan Morais, Peter Coleman, Jim Tornolah of Maryland, Grand Kru and Margibi Counties along with Representatives George Mulbah and Numene Bartekwa of Bong and Grand Kru Counties filed a petition seeking the impeachment of Associate Justices Jamesetta Howard-Wolokollie, Kabineh Ja'neh and Philip A.Z. Banks to the Plenary of the House of Representatives.

The lawmakers detested the Associate Justices' role in the ruling handed down by the Supreme Court when Karnwea and Sulunteh were cleared to run as wished and prayed for by their parties in different Bill of Petitions filed before the Supreme Court.

In its preliminary report on Tuesday, the House's judiciary committee informed plenary that a writ of summon was issued, attached to a copy of the petition, placed in the hands of Sergeant-At-Arms for service served on each of the three associate justices and returned served.

The House's judiciary committee reminded the plenary that giving that the Liberian law gives a minimum of ten days for answer or return to be filled in civil cases, the writ of summons gives the Associate Justices up to August 14, 2017 to file their answer or returns.

The committee also recounted that in the absence of any rules governing impeachment proceedings and given that there is no precedence for it, the resolution it has drafted will set out the rules for the impeachment of the three associate justices.

In a three-page document presented to the House Tuesday, the judiciary committee said the resolution will give the accused due process and the right to legal representation in keeping with the dictates of Constitution.

"Given the limited time that left for this current session of the House of Representatives, we urge you to suspend our rules, discuss and vote on the resolution and send the resolution to the Liberian Senate for its consideration at its sitting," the committee recommended.

The committee members further recommended that if those two actions can be expeditiously completed, they will have a set of rules for governance of impeachment of the three associate justices before the time for them to file their answer or returns to the petition expires on August 14, 2017.

"In keeping with the adopted resolution, a preliminary hearing will be conducted by the judiciary committee to determine whether there is probable cause for the impeachment proceeding against the associate justices," the committee said.

In a 12-count-resolution, the judiciary committee however assured transparency in handling the case and vowed to take action where necessary and advise where necessary.

Meanwhile, the resolution and recommendations from the judiciary committee were unanimously endorsed by majority members in session.

The Liberian Constitution

According to Article 73 of the Liberian Constitution, No judicial official shall be summoned, arrested, detained, prosecuted or tried civilly or criminally by or at the instance of any person or authority on account of judicial opinions rendered or expressed, judicial statements made and judicial acts done in the course of a trial in open court or in chambers, except for treason or other felonies, misdemeanor or breach of the peace. Statements made and acts done by such officials in the course of a judicial proceeding shall be privileged, and, subject to the above qualification, no such statement made or acts done shall be admissible into evidence against them at any trial or proceeding.

Representative Edwin Melvin Snowe Distances Himself

Representative Edwin Snowe (Mont. Co) is putting up the stiffest of resistance against any machination, any plan and attempt to get at any of the justices of the Supreme Court Bench as some members of the National Legislature have worked out legal modalities for impeachment proceedings against three Associate Justices.

However, Rep. Snowe Monday appeared on ELBC phone-in Program and sharply reacted to the impeachment petition as a big political bluff. "Let me state clearly and let me encourage my colleagues to immediately desist and reconsider this idea. I think it is overreaching and it forms no basis of reliance, especially to attempt to impeach members of the Supreme Court Bench for rendering opinion in a matter that was sent to them for interpretation, it can't happen, this is just a political bluff," Rep. Snowe stressed.

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