11 July 2018

Liberia - Justice Ja'neh's Impeachment, an Attempt to Weaken Supreme Court Bench?

Photo: The New Republic
Associate Justice Kabineh Ja’neh.

Monrovia — Reminiscing the legal entanglements that engulfed the October 10, 2017 elections, Liberty Party (LP) seems not have gotten over the Supreme Court's denial of a rerun of the entire election on grounds that evidence were insufficient.

Yet, the party still finds solace in the dissenting opinion of Associate Justice Kabineh Ja'neh who opined that it was deeply disconcerting that his colleagues had decided to ignore the glaring discrepancies and evidence of gross irregularities in electoral process leading up to and during the October polls.

The LP along with the ruling party at the time, Unity Party, were challenging the electoral process after the first round which saw the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC), now the ruling party, in the lead.

The two disenchanted parties called for a rerun of the elections, citing lack of transparency in the electoral process and electoral fraud.

They strongly believed that had the Chairman of the National Elections Commissioned been replaced, and October 10 election results canceled, the CDC would not have won the election.

CDC Feeling Threatened?

CDC Lawmaker Moses Acarous Gray of Montserrado County District 8 broke the news of filing an impeachment proceeding against the Associate Justice but failed to release details on reasons for his impeachment. Rep. Gray told reporters that he was soliciting signatures for the process.

Popular public belief is that Rep. Gray's decision to oust the Supreme Court Bench Member is because of his link with the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD).

LURD was a rebel group in Liberia that was active from 1999 until the resignation of Charles Taylor ended the Second Liberian Civil War in 2003. While the group formally dissolved after the war, the interpersonal linkages of the civil war era remain a key force in internal Liberian politics.

The group's only stated political purpose during the civil war that followed its rebellion against President Charles Taylor was to force him out of office: "Taylor must go". The group received support from Liberian diasporas in other African countries, Europe and the United States, but especially from the government of neighboring Guinea after the Taylor-supported invasion of the country in September 2000. Like the other two warring factions during the Second War, even LURD was accused of committing atrocities during the war.

But the Liberty Party feels strongly that Rep. Gray's decision is only intended to weaken the integrity of the Supreme Court's bench due to his stance in the electoral impasse.

"It is without any doubt that Justice Ja'neh stands out as a man of integrity, not only as a member of the Supreme Court Bench, where he has distinguished himself, but also as a Liberian citizen, a man of great honor. So, it does not take a smart person to realize that the real reason why the Weah-led government would want to remove Justice Ja'neh from the Supreme Court is because of the role he played in the case, Liberty Party & Unity Party vs. NEC, during which the results of 2017 Presidential Elections were challenged because of fraud and gross irregularities," Liberty Party asserted in a statement.

The opposition LP insinuated that Justice Ja'neh's presence on he Bench reminds the CDC government that had the Supreme Court followed its own precedent, established elections laws, and legal reasoning, there would not have been a CDC government today.

"Justice Ja'neh's presence on the Bench also keeps the hope and aspiration of many Liberians for a strong and independent judiciary alive," the stated further noted.

Digging Old Wounds

The Liberty Party recalled the 2014 mid-term elections in which the APD candidate Cllr. Joseph K. Jallah, challenged the result after LP candidate Stephen Zargo was declared winner. The APD alleged irregularity in the electoral process.

Justice Philip A. Z. Banks, III who read the Court's majority opinion read:

"Indeed, one would believe that the Commission, faced with any accusations of misconduct of any of its electoral officials, would not so much require the complainant to produce evidence of the misconduct as would take it upon itself to investigate the incident and the officials accused of the misconduct to ascertain whether in fact such conduct was exhibited by the accused official. That, we believe, is what the framers intended. To require otherwise would mean that in every election, one would have to bring along a video camera, tape record or other electronic devises as would openly catch the officials engaging in the misconduct."

"We must emphasize, however, that if the process is flawed, no matter how good the Commission's intention may have been, especially if it departs from the prescribed manner or mandate of the law, it could have the propensity to impact negatively and severely, not just a single individual but, as in the instant case, an entire county wherein resides almost one-fifth of the nation's population. This is the underlining theme and mandate of the Constitution, that the Commission must not only ensure that the manner in which the elections are conducted is fair and transparent but also that the results must represent the true votes of the electorate. Thus a party feeling aggrieved may challenge not only the manner in which the elections were conducted but also the results of the elections."

"The Commissions should always be mindful of the fact that the credibility of an election result is determined by the transparency and lawfulness of the electoral process, which is why "this Court has recognized and espoused that the overriding object of what the Elections Law seeks to accomplish in all electoral competitions is a secure, transparent and accurate determination of the results." NPP v. NEC et al., decided January 6, 2012. This was the spirit intended by the framers of the Constitution, and in turn, the drafters of the Elections Law."

From this backdrop, the opposition party sees it unfair that the same rule wasn't applied to the October 10 case, thereby, giving reason for Justice Ja'neh to disagree with the Bench's majority. The party feels it was denied equal protection of the law.

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