Liberia: Lawyers Rage Against Judge Sammy's 'Demeaning' Comments

Criminal Court 'C' Judge Nancy Sammy: "The conduct of some of the lawyers involved in unwholesome behaviors, is casting negative aspersion on the courts, judges and the entire judiciary."

Several members of the Liberian National Bar Association (LNBA) have taken exception to a comment made by the assigned Criminal Court 'C' Judge, Nancy Sammy, relative to corruption, which she said has a negative public perception about the judiciary on lawyers' behaviors.

Some of the lawyers argue that Judge Sammy's comment has brought the legal profession into public disrepute, "because it was not in the best interest of the profession that is going through a reform process."

When Judge Sammy delivered her charged on Monday, November 11 at the opening of the November Term of Criminal Courts, A, B, C and D for Montserrado County, she expressed dismay from "feedback", which she said was gathered from the public or party litigants, insinuating that lawyers usually request for money from their clients to allegedly bribe the judge; intimating to those clients that they needed said money to give to judges as a requisite for the said judge to assign a case; hear it and make ruling in the lawyers' favor.

"My people, because party litigants who are reportedly involved in giving money to their lawyers allegedly intended for judges, cannot directly interact with the judges to ascertain whether the assertions the lawyers made are true; most often tend to believe the false representations made to them by their lawyers," Judge Sammy said.

Her remarks were greeted with resounding round of applauds from those non-lawyers present at the ceremony, while some of the lawyers at the occasion announced that they would take exception to judge Sammy's remarks, which the lawyers described as being "boastful".

However, LNBA president, Cllr. Tiawan Saye Gongloe, said it was unfortunate that he did not attend the criminal Courts opening, where Sammy made her statement, but said it was now in the purview of the lawyers to raise the issue.

Although Cllr. Gongloe refused to address the issue, he said: "There were lawyers in audience when the judge made the comment, particularly those of the Montserrado County Bar that should have immediately reacted to Judge Sammy's statement, but failed to do so.

"I was attending the opening of the 13th Judicial Circuit in Kakata, Margibi County, and so, I did not listen to Judge Sammy's statement. However, some of the lawyers informed me about her comment against the law profession and lawyers who are practicing in keeping with the law," Cllr. Gongloe said.

According to him, he has designated some of LNBA's highly-rated lawyers, who represented the bar at the opening ceremony, to review her remarks, since they heard it and failed to react to such an inflammatory accusation."

At the ceremony, Cllr. Sam Cooper, president of the Montserrado County Bar, who by tradition of the criminal courts, was given the opportunity to respond to the judges' charge, failed to do so, not even so much as saying a word about Judge Sammy's accusation against the lawyers.

Further, Judge Sammy told her audience, many of who were already laughing at her comments that denigrated some of the lawyers, that: "As we lawyers are aware, such behavior is totally in contravention of Rules 1 and 15 of the Code of Moral and Professional ethics for lawyers.

"Rule 1 specifically states that, 'It shall be unprofessional for any lawyer to advise, initiate or otherwise participate directly or indirectly in any act that tends to undermine or impugn the authority, dignity, integrity of the courts or judges, thereby hindering the effective administration of justice.'"

Also, the judge quoted Rule 15: "... a lawyer should refrain from any act whereby for his personal benefit or gain, abuses or takes advantage of the confidence reposed in him by his client."

While pleading with lawyers to exercise professional conduct, Sammy added, "I want to make a passionate call to all practicing lawyers appearing before courts anywhere in the country to assist the judiciary in this endeavor."

This call, she said, "is predicated upon the fact that there are constant negative public perceptions, and allegations of corruption on the part of judges and the Courts. These reported allegations of corruption levied against judges, and the judiciary has claimed the attention of the overall chiefs, and even the judges."

Based on the repeated allegations of corruption levied against judges, and the judiciary, she added, "Some of us decided to independently conduct surveys to determine how judges, and the judiciary are corrupt."

"Therefore," Sammy said, "The conduct of some of the lawyers involved in unwholesome behaviors, is casting negative aspersion on the courts, judges and the entire judiciary. We are therefore calling on those lawyers involved to desist from this unethical conduct, which has the propensity to undermine the integrity of judges and the courts."

She reminded her audience that lawyers are friends of the Court. "... therefore, if we are to rebuild confidence in our courts and roll back some of the negative perceptions that permeate the minds of some members of the public about our courts, we must all rise to the challenge and stop these negative actions that have the tendency to cast negative aspersions on the courts and the legal system and assist the courts in ensuring the effective administration of justice as revealed."

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