15 February 2019

Liberia: Chief Justice Asked to Recuse Self From Impeachment Trial

Drama ensued at the Legislature on Thursday, February 14, 2019, when the impeachment trial of Associate Supreme Court Justice Kabineh M. Ja'neh, which was scheduled for hearing, was subsequently adjourned by the request of lawyers representing him.

Shortly afterwards, the President Pro Tempore of the Senate Albert T. Chie said that impeachment trial of public officials, including the current trial that involves Associate Justice Ja'neh as well as others all over the world, are political matters, though not judicial in nature.

"That is why, for example, under the American and Liberian systems of laws, these trials are conducted in public houses like the Senate," Pro Tempore Chie said in a statement on Thursday. He was speaking at the commencement of the trial of Associate Supreme Court Justice Ja'neh in the Chambers of the Senate on Capitol Hill.

The Grand Kru County senator said that the role of any presiding officer is essentially to provide legal guidance to the process, "and not to turn the Senate into a courthouse, with lawyers gearing up for a legal battle with prolonged motions and delays."

"The cardinal aim of the process," Senator Chie said, "is to give the accused a fair and speedy trial in a political forum... "

Senator Chie told the jam-packed Chambers that the Senate on November 15, 2018, received members who displayed articles of impeachment, along with supporting documents, charging Associate Justice Ja'neh with what they considered felonious crimes brought against him by the House of Representatives, namely: "Theft of property, perjury, fraud, corruption, proved misconduct, abuse of public office, wanton abuse of judicial discretion and misuse of power."

On November 19, 2018, Senator Chie informed the gathering that in line with Article 43 of the Constitution and the approved Rules and Procedure on impeachment, they "summoned the Associate Justice and gave him the opportunity to respond to the charges levied against him by the House of Representatives. Respondent Associate Ja'neh filed his returns with a special appearance disposition on November 27, 2018."

Accepting the gavel to preside, Chief Justice Francis S. Korkpor promised to operate in line with the provisions of the Constitution, adding: "The Constitution requires that impeachment proceedings conform to due process of law. It is my responsibility as the presiding officer to ensure that all parties, including the Justice who is on trial, are accorded due process. Presumption of innocence is at the core of our jurisprudence and we shall respect this throughout this trial."

Korkpor said that as presiding officer, he has the authority "to allow or disallow any question which, in view, will not serve the end of justice. You will please yield in the event your question is disallowed."

Meanwhile, Chief Justice Korkpor has announced that a motion has been filed in the current impeachment case so that he can recuse himself.

"We will hear the case and listen to arguments and then make appropriate decisions on Monday, February 18, which will include whether I will still be presiding."

If he will be ruled to continue presiding, Korkpor said protocol time of 10:a.m. as applied at the Supreme Court will be used for this impeachment trial, which may run on Mondays and Fridays.

By his request and in accordance with law, senators present at yesterday's preliminary hearing were sworn in under oath by secretary of the Senate J. Nanborlor F. Sengbeh.

Six respondent lawyers and members of the Legislature were well represented in the Chamber yesterday.

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