VOID ON THE BENCH
WHO FILLS GLADY’S JOHNSON’SHOES?
With Associate Justice Glady’s Johnson officially off the Supreme Court after her retirement this week, attention is now shifting toward her likely replacement. But amid numerous criticisms of corruption in the judicial branch, finding a replacement for the woman regarded as one of the seasoned judges on the bench could prove to be a daunting task for the President.
Glady's Johnson's expected departure from the Supreme Court bench became official this week, leaving a void on the highest court in Liberia. Who fills her shoes will no doubt be the subject of debates in the coming days.
The Supreme Court, the final arbiter of justice in Liberia is comprise of one Chief Justice and four Associate Justice, a majority of whom, as inscribed in the constitution, shall be deemed competent to transact the business of the Court.
Johnson's departure now leaves the bench with Chief Justice Johnnie Lewis and Associates Francis Korkpor, Kabineh Ja'neh and Jamesetta Wolokollie. Johnson's departure also leaves open endless possibilities and the likelihood or unlikelihood that President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf would turn to another woman to keep the gender presence on the bench fairly balance at three to two, or maintain the single female presence, Wolokollie, and bring in another male figure, creating an imbalance at 4-1.
Both the Chief Justice and Associate Justices of the Supreme Court shall are commissioned by the president, with the consent of the Senate and constitution requirements demand that the nominee to the bench is a a citizen of Liberia and of good moral character; and a counsellor of the Supreme Court Bar who has practiced for at least 5 years.
The bench has changed once since the 2005 presidential election which brought Sirleaf to power, following the death of Associate Justice Emmanuel Wureh. Christiana Tah was first nominated to fill Wureh's shoes but was denied by the Senate before the nomination of Jamesetta Wolokollie.
Amid a multitude of cases and numerous scepticisms about the handling of cases in the courts, FrontPageAfrica sifters through some of the best legal minds in Liberia today and analyzes those likely to be in the running to fill a missing piece on the high court.
PHILLIP A.Z. BANKS
The former dean of the Louis Arthur Grimes School of Law has served twice as justice minister (1990-94 and 2007-09) and is widely regarded as one of Liberia's brightest legal minds. Banks was dismissed from government in 2009 amid concerns that he soft-pedalled the corruption trial of Edwin Snowe, the former boss of the Liberian Petroleum Refining Company and a member of the House.
Known to keep a low profile, Banks has not shied away from controversy. In 2009, he was accused by the United States Department of Justice of allegedly failing to release the country's Legal Code. Banks condemned the accusation and defied those making the claims to provide proof. Banks was accused of taking at least US$412,000 as cost to produce 100 copies of the Liberian Supreme Court Opinions for the Government of the United States. The allegations were contained in a report published in an American online diplomatic publication, ForeignPolicy.com, on November 12, 2009. It further accused the former Liberian Attorney General of claiming copyright of Liberian laws, both the statutes and the Supreme Court Opinions.
POTENTIAL STUMBLING BLOCK: Banks endured criticisms after his two stints as Minister of Justice and created some ill-feelings over his role in the publications of the Supreme Court opinions. Despite his frailties he still regarded as one of the best legal minds in Liberia and is seen as better suited for the bench than his former stint a Justice minister.
Clement began his career as a celebrated newscaster before fleeing into exile. A former student leader at the University of Liberia, Clement is one of a handful of Liberian lawyers who has successful worked among the cream of America's top lawyers. Clement was part of the Arnold & Porter LLP's commercial litigation team which earned a major victory on behalf of Keystone Holdings Partners, LP and its principal investor, Robert M. Bass, when the US Court of Federal Claims awarded Keystone's former subsidiary American Savings Bank US$401.5 million in restitution and damages in a breach of contract action against the United States. At the depth of the 1980s S&L crisis, the government offered favorable regulatory treatment to the Bass group to entice it to acquire American Savings Bank of Stockton, California, then the country's largest insolvent thrift. With the valuable government promises, the Bass group acquired American Savings, invested US$350 million of capital, and nursed the institution back to health and profitability. The government soon breached the contract, withdrew the favorable regulatory treatment, and threatened the institution's survival.
While at the University of Liberia, where he later earned a Bachelor of Science Degree in Economics, Kwame Clement was elected President of the University of Liberia Student Union, a capacity he served in 1980. Mr. Clement's election to the ULSU Presidency is a landmark event in the annals of University student politics as it marked the first ever defeat of the hitherto undefeated Student Unification Party.
Prior to active practice of law, Kwame won a much-coveted federal judicial clerkship, and served as a Law Clerk to Judge Carlos F. Lucero of the Federal Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, in Denver Colorado. Mr. Clement holds a Juris Doctor (JD) Degree, with Highest Honors, from George Washington University Law School in Washington, DC. While in law school, Kwame won the Corpus Juris Secundum Award for attaining the highest grade in both Torts and Civil Procedure.
POTENTIAL STUMBLING BLOCK: Clement's long stay away from Liberia could rule him out of consideration for the post but more importantly, the Liberian government not have the financial muscle to woo him away from the comfort he now enjoys from his practice in America. Limited practice of law in Liberia could also be a factor.
Dean who earned his law degree from the famed Colombia University in the United States of Ameria is former head of the the National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCAL) and a former professor at the Louis Arthur Grimes School of Law.
Dean is currently one of the most successful defense lawyers in Liberia. Last year he filed an action of damages against SN Brussels at the Civil Law Court for what he called racially motivated bad business practice. Cllr. Dean is seeking special damages of seven hundred thousand US dollars for embarrassment and inconvenience he allegedly suffered at the hands of the Airlines. He claims SN Brussels demanded excess baggage fees from him, though he had paid it at the Dulles Airport in the United States. Cllr. Dean also claims SN Brussels staffers treat Liberians and other Africans with open disrespect, scorn and willful disdain.
While the SN Brussels suit raised eyebrows, Dean is mostly recognized these days for his defense of Hans and Mardea Williams, accused of killing 9-year-old Angel Tokpah, in case that has captivated Liberia's judiciary watchers and drawn international monitoring.
POTENTIAL STUMBLING BLOCK: Dean could bring a youthful energy to the bench but could suffer from the ongoing appeal of his current case, the Angel Tokpah Murder trial. The wounds of a verdict which is expected at the end of the March term may be too fresh to throw Dean into the fire.
MOHAMMEDU F. JONES
THE LOWDOWN: Jones is one of Liberia's most promising lawyers and is an associate editor of the Liberian Law Reports, the official publication of the Opinions of the Supreme Court of Liberia.
He holds a Master of Laws, Harvard University. Focus of study: international business transactions. Developed a case study for settling complex disputes by negotiation that is now used as a teaching tool in the Harvard Law School Negotiation Workshop. Bachelor of Laws, summa cum laude, University of Liberia Law School. Editor in Chief, Liberian Law Journal. BA in Political Science, University of Northern Iowa.
He is admitted to practice: Republic of Liberia, State of New York, and Federal Court, Southern District of NY, Although Jones currently serves as a senior Non-Resident Partner a local lawfirm Jones and Jones is behind the development of the first Internet-based Liberian corporate legal services entity, dedicated to transnational transactions, offering legal services and public policy consultancy. He has provide legal services to firms in the US, UK, Netherlands, Singapore, Hong Kong, France, South Africa, Panama and Australia.
POTENTIAL STUMBLING BLOCK: Jones' long absence from Liberia could rule him out of contention amid criticisms that majority of the appointments of the Sirleaf government has been from the Diaspora.
The current justice minister was first nominated to the post in 2007 but was rejected by the Senate. She officially assumed office of Minister of Justice and Attorney General on 13 July 2009, after her appointment by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and confirmation by the Senate. She is a member of the Supreme Court Bar of the Republic of Liberia since 1987 and of the American Bar Association since 1994. She practiced law as legal counsel with Maxwell and Maxwell Law offices in Monrovia in the realm of corporate law, labour law, banking and general international business transactions.
Prior to becoming minister, Tah served as a professor in the Department of Sociology, Anthropology and Criminal Justice at Montgomery College, Maryland, USA. Previous to that post, she taught at Morgan State University for several years, and was adjunct Professor of Corporative Justice System at the American University in the early nineties. She is licensed to practiced law in the State of Maryland. While in the US she worked with various Liberian community organizations and the United States government on acquiring and maintaining legal immigration status for Liberians nationals in the US. She obtained a BA degree in Sociology from Carson-Newman College, an MA degree in Sociology (with specialization in Corrections) from Kent State University, a LLB degree from the University of Liberia and LLM degree from Yale Law School where she specialized in International Business Transactions.
POTENTIAL STUMBLING BLOCK: Could Tah make through without complications if she appears for nomination to the bench the second time? Like Banks, Tah has endured mounting criticisms over the volume of cases lost under her watch. Political observers say her strain ties with police director Marc Amblard has impeded her ability to dispense justice adequately. Despite her lapses, Tah has continued to push for reform of the jury system as part of overall efforts to fight corruption in the judiciary. Tah's challenge should she make it on the bench would be to ensure that justice is dispense withouth fear or favor. She received first hand experience in the aftermath of the case againt former Information Minister Dr. Laurence Bropleh who was acquitted after being accused by the government of stealing more than $200,000 while in office. Tah told the VOA: “I can say quite candidly that I was very shocked when I was told that the case was dismissed. I sent for the prosecutors to explain to me what was going on and whether it was true that they had not shown up in court, and they told me they had shown up in court.”
A graduate of the Cuttington University College, Tweh graduated with honors from the Louis Arthur Grimes School of Law, University of Liberia. Tweh is currently a senior partner at Tweh&Associates.
He is a Harvard Law School bred qualified to practice before the Supreme Court of Liberia and the Supreme Court, New York State. Tweh is a former vice president and president of the Liberia National Bar Association and member of the New York State Bar Association; American Bar Association.
Tweh specializes in Corporate Taxation; International Business; Commercial Transactions; Litigation. He is former Assistant Professor of Law, Louis Arthur Grimes School of Law, University of Liberia, 1992-1996; Managing Partner, Brumskine & Associates, 1993-1999; Member, National Board of Bar Examiners, Supreme Court of Liberia, 1994-1996/February 2004 to the present); Member, Board of Directors, Liberia Telecommunications Corporation (LTC), 1994-1995; Member, Tax Commission of Liberia, 1999; Member, Grievance & Ethics Committee, Supreme Court of Liberia, 2002-Present; Chairman, Board of Directors, Industrial Property Office, 2005 to the present; President, Liberia National Bar Association (LNBA), 2006; Chairman, Provisional Board of Directors, Liberia Telecommunications Corporation (LTC), 2006; Member, Judicial Inquiry Commission, Supreme Court of Liberia, 2006.
POTENTIAL STUMBLING BLOCK: Despite Tweh's vast experience, has never worked in the government system as a prosecutor.
A graduate of Louis Arthur Grimes School in 1988, Gongloe was a successful human rights activist prior to his stint in government. He gained notoriety after he was imprisoned and tortured during ex-president Charles Taylor regime. Gongloe became Liberia's Solicitor-General in 2006.
Gongloe has worked on assignment as a member of the United Nations Observer Mission in South Africa (UNOMSA). At the end of his two-year duty tour in South Africa, Cllr. Gongloe resumed the private law practice pleading in both criminal and civil matters as well as standing tall as pro-democracy advocate, thus earning for himself a naked name, 'poor man's lawyer or a human rights lawyer.' Gongloe, who graduated from the University of Liberia UL in 1981 with Bachelor of Science degree in Economics, also holds a certificate in Human Rights Advocacy from the Human Rights Center at Columbia University in New York. Gongloe speaks fluent English, Mano and Dahn, as well as intermediate French and Amharic.
POTENTIAL STUMBLING BLOCK: Gongloe may have shot himself in the leg when he broke ranks with President Sirleaf over the president's decision to send her entire Cabinet on administrative leave. Gongloe said the president's decision was wrong and took his case to the airwaves, drawing massive public support but internal ire within government circles.
Verdier, the former head of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is a leading human rights and civil society activist as well as a practicing lawyer. He holds a Bachelors of Business Administration (BBA) Degree in Accounting and Economics (1988) from the University of Liberia and a Bachelors of Laws Degree (LLB) from its Louis Arthur Grimes School of Law. Apart from working both in the private and public sectors as Senior Accountant, Comptroller and Executive Director, he has been instrumental in strengthening civil society advocacy whilst serving in several capacities as Executive Director of Liberia Democracy Watch (LDW); Chairman of the Board of Directors of The National Human Rights Center of Liberia (NHRCL), a consortium of nine human rights and pro-democracy organizations. Verdier was the first Research & Program Officer of the Catholic Justice & Peace
POTENTIAL STUMBLING BLOCK: The former head of the TRC is not a popular figure in the incumbent government and has been very vocal in recent weeks about vital issues including the upcoming referendum. There is a perception that Verdier and the rest of the commissioners from the TRC have been blacklisted from jobs in the government in part due to their recommendations in the final report of the TRC.
The former Head of Secretariat for the Liberia Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (LEITI), Warner is a former Partner of Deon & Noed Consulting International (DNCI). He is a Master of Law and a member of the New York Bar and the Liberia National Bar. He has over ten (10) years years post-qualification experience in both private and public legal sectors both in and out of Liberia. He holds a Bachelor of Science Degree (Cum Laude) in Economics from the University of Liberia, a Bachelor of Laws Degree (Summa Cum Laude) from the University of Liberia, and a Master of Law Degree from Cornell Law School, USA. The Liberia National Bar conferred membership on him in 2000 and the New York Bar in 2003. He is co-incorporator of the Environmental Lawyers Association (Green Advocates).
Warner has authored legal publications for the USA/Africa Institute Journal and the Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative. He has served in supervisory and consultancy roles for the Government of Liberia, Business Firms, Environmental Protection Organizations, Civil Society Organizations, and Educational Institutions.
POTENTIAL STUMBLING BLOCK: Warner fell out of favor with the administration in the aftermath of his findings in the Carbon Credit investigation although the government is yet to implement Warner's findings which drew controversy and angry responses from various subjects linked to the awarding of a certificate.