The President of the Liberia National Bar Association (LNBA), Human Rights Activist and Lawyer, Cllr. Tiawon S. Gongloe sees a troubling impeachment proceeding at the Senate against Justice Kabineh Ja’neh, cautioning the Supreme Court against further encouragement of conflict in the country as was done in the 1980s. The Supreme Court, he said, shares the blame for the more than 250,000 people that were killed in Liberia during the civil debacle, and noted that had the Supreme Court played its part well, in the past, Liberia would not have descended into conflict; writes Bill Jarkloh.
The LNBA President made the statement when he delivered the Bar’s response to the Charge of the Chief Justice at the opening of the Supreme Court March Term on March 11, 2019.
Cllr. Gongloe said the impeachment proceeding underway at the Senate presided over by Chief Justice Francis Korkpor is troubling because the presiding officer rules on some issues and on others he refuses to rule on the ground that he lacks the authority to do so.
“A better procedure was what Chief Justice Rehnquist in the United States of America adopted at the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton. For example, Chief Justice Rehnquist referred the motion to dismiss to members of the Senate who denied same by a vote of 56 to 44. In the Ja’neh case, this very important motion was not referred to the Senate to decide whether or not the case should be proceeded with or dismissed, Cllr. Gongloe asserted.
The Human Rights lawyer said the ongoing impeachment hearing is challenging because the Supreme Court avoided, refused, failed and neglected to interpret article 43 of the Constitution of Liberia regarding the procedure for impeachment.
Article 43 provides that 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.
The constitutional article also promulgates that 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.
The President of the Liberia Bar Association told the Opening of the Supreme Court that he agrees with Chief Justice Francis Korkpor that the Ja’neh impeachment proceeding is challenging, saying this is because the history of Liberia will record that the Chief Justice whose bench was disrespected by some members of the House of Representatives chose to preside over an impeachment proceeding which was based on a total disregard for the authority of the Supreme Court.
Urging the Francis Korkpor Bench of the Supreme Court not to allow itself to be similarly judged in the future as it stands for the Supreme Court of the 1980s, the National Bar President agreed with Mr. Chief Justice Korkpor that the high court is going through a challenging period due to the efforts by some members of the House of Representatives to impeach His Honor, Mr. Justice Kabineh M. Ja’neh.
The impeachment of Justice Ja’neh, Cllr. Gongloe recalled, is the second time that a member of the Supreme Court bench is to ever be impeached since 1847, the first been Chief Justice Chea Cheapo who was impeached in 1987 for jailing Probate Court Judge Harper Bailey.
Cllr. Gongloe noted that Chief Justice Cheapo was impeached almost unanimously by the Senate, except for Margibi County Senator David Menyongai who was the only Senator that voted to acquit Chief Justice Cheapo
Although Chief Justice Cheapo had earlier tendered in his resignation, President Samuel K. Doe rejected his resignation and rather chose to impeach him, a situation which was a challenging moment for the Supreme Court, as it is today, Gongloe accentuate.
“But what makes it more challenging this time, is that the bill of impeachment on which Justice Ja’neh is being tried is a product of defiance by some members of the House of Representatives, of the alternative writ of prohibition issued by a Justice of the Supreme Court sitting in Chambers, acting under the authority of the law.
“It is also challenging because the full bench of the Supreme Court did not consider this defiance of the presiding Justice’s order as a defiance of the entire Bench,” the one time solicitor general of Liberia dissect the Ja’neh impeach trial.
In his view, the failure of any individual, group of individuals, or any department or branch of government to honor an order of the Court undermines the rule of law and threatens the peace, security and development of this country, a situation which Cllr. Gongloe stressed, is the real challenge.
Another challenge is the fact that the impeachment of Justice Ja’neh began with the listing of actions or conducts which do not qualify as impeachable offenses. Two of these actions listed have direct links to the Supreme Court.
He narrated that in one case, Justice Ja’neh was a party in a case decided by the Supreme Court. In the other, he was performing a judicial duty in which his decision was subject to review by the entire Bench. Yet, Justice Ja’neh is being subjected to a hearing for matters that both the bench and a justice in chambers are protected for by the Constitution of Liberia.
The Ja’neh impeachment trial is not only challenging, but it is troubling because it has the potential of bringing the bill of impeachment so low, that it may serve as a precedent for the easy impeachment and removal of elected and other high officials of government, not excluding the Chief Justice and other members of the bench, who can only be removed by impeachment, the Bar President observed.
He believed it is challenging because it promises future instability in government. “We can only hope that the Senate will save this country where this Court failed on this matter,” he said.
“Your Honors, this Court is the only source of hope for the survival of our democracy and the sustenance of peace and security in our country. The LNBA will support and cooperate with Your Honors as long as you perform your duty as the custodian of our democracy, peace and security,” the onetime chief prosecutor admonished the Korkpor Bench of the Supreme Court.
Gongloe then spoke to the speedy dispensation of justice at the level of the Supreme Court, saying “Your honors, we note that there are 310 cases on the trial docket and 15 cases on the motion calendar. We urge the court to assign these cases in sequence, instead of each lawyer coming to ask for the assignment of his/her case. In that case the Court and the parties will know which lawyer is not ready for a case and the blame will not go to the Court or its clerical staff,” he concluded.