12 September 2018

Liberia: Ja'neh's Impeachment Trial Frozen

The reading of a prepared report containing rules/procedures and an activity matrix for the impeachment trial of Supreme Court Associate Justice Kabinneh Ja'neh, was ordered halted after it was observed that only four of nine members of the Judiciary Committee signed the document.

The Judiciary, Human Rights, Claims and Petitions Committee, chaired by Senator Varney Sherman, was on Tuesday, September 4, requested to review any rule of the Senate on impeachment and related matters. Based on the importance attached to that mandate, the Senate leadership, through President Pro-Tempore Albert Chie, increased the number of members on the Varney Sherman-chaired committee from six to nine.

The terms of reference of the committee were to review any rule of the Senate on impeachment and related matters; complement the rules of the Senate with other rules and procedures, to ensure adherence to the principles of due process as enshrined in the Constitution and laws of Liberia; prepare a matrix of activities with timelines for the trial of the impeachment, and report to plenary through the leadership within a week of the endorsement of this briefing.

But during yesterday's sitting, Bomi County Senator Sando Johnson called the attention of his colleagues through a motion after he observed that a copy of the report in his possession was only signed by four senators of the nine-member committee.

Pro-Tempore Chie agreed that reading of the report needed to be discontinued, and mandated the Senate Secretariat to send the report back to the committee, "so that the proper thing can be done."

During the entire opening session, chair of the Judiciary Committee Senator Varney Sherman, who was absent from the Chamber, was later seen surrounded by some of his colleagues at executive session (closed door).

Meanwhile, prior to last week's vote to mandate the Judiciary Committee to review any rule of the Senate on impeachment procedures, several senators expressed discontent with respect to the way in which the Senate was issued notice of the impeachment.

For instance, Gbarpolu County Senator Daniel Naatehn maintained that the Senate should abide by its own rule and that the submission should be done in line with the spirit and intent of Rule 63 and that anything short of that should not be entertained by Senate plenary.

Naatehn cautioned his colleagues to be mindful of Article 43 of the Constitution on impeachment proceedings, which he believes was not fully complied with to have introduced in the senate an instrument that resembles an impeachment bill.

"I will submit, if my colleagues will agree with me, that the senate should not act on any instrument that by-passes its standing rules and does not satisfy the intent and spirit of Article 43 of the senate," Sen. Naatehn said.

Article 43: "The power to prepare a bill of impeachment is vested solely in the House of Representatives, and the power to try all impeachments is vested solely in the Senate. When the President, Vice President or an Associate Justice is to be tried, the Chief Justice shall preside; when the Chief Justice or a judge of a subordinate court of record is to be tried, the President of the Senate shall preside. No person shall be impeached but by the concurrence of two-thirds of the total membership of the Senate. Judgments in such cases shall not extend beyond removal from office and disqualification to hold public office in the Republic; but the party may be tried at law for the same offense. The Legislature shall prescribe the procedure for impeachment proceedings which shall be in conformity with the requirements of due process of law."

Nimba County Senator Thomas Grupee, in his expressed view, said: "We do not have a bill of impeachment before the Senate; what was read to us in this Chamber about a week ago was a notice. We have to first look at the bill of impeachment and all of the charges levied against the accused by the House of Representatives to know if those charges rise to the level of impeachable offenses."

"This situation that is before us is a very serious and critical issue, and if we don't handle it properly, we will have a constitutional crisis, because the two branches of government [Judiciary and Legislature] have a part to play in this trial. We must handle this case to its logical conclusion, because there is now a dark cloud hanging over the accused that will affect his character for the rest of his life. Therefore, any attempt to use short circuit justice that will not give Justice Ja'neh due process, I will not agree with the Senate. This impeachment has become very political," Bomi County Senator and chair on Concessions Sando Johnson warned.

Margibi County Senator Oscar Cooper said that the rule of law must suffice (be enough or adequate) and that Margibi will follow the rule of law as well as the Constitution. "Article 43 is open to interpretation and procedure, and if there is ambiguity in that Article, only the Supreme Court can interpret that through its opinion. We are having a confusion here, and the only reason for that is because the Lower House does not know how to present impeachment proceeding to the Upper House; this is what is breeding the confusion. If the intent of the framer was followed in Article 43, I think, then, the House of Representatives would have abided by impeachment procedures and how to present a bill or an article of impeachment, and this is the problem," Senator Cooper said.

Meanwhile, Lofa County Senator and chairman of Liberty Party Stephen Zargo, speaking at a local radio talk show yesterday, September 11, declared his party's position, which he said will not change. "We do not have sufficient grounds to warrant impeachment of Ja'neh; we are reading motives," he emphasized.

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