MONROVIA, Montserrado – A ceremony marking the official induction of Judge Yusif Kaba as the new associate justice to the Supreme Court became sour on Monday following a statement from the president of the Liberia National Bar Association, Tiawan Gongloe, stating that the lawyer’s organization disapproved of Kaba’s induction.
Kaba, who previously headed the Civil Law Court, was appointed by President George Weah to replace former Associate Justice Kabineh Ja’neh, who was successfully impeached and removed by the Senate, for official misconduct and gross breach of duty.
In his statement during the ceremony, Gongloe disclosed that the official position of the LNBA has been and still is that the removal of Ja’neh was unconstitutional. He said the LNBA maintains its position that the bill of impeachment for the former associate justice’s removal was a product of the violation of a court order and that the impeachment was done without a procedure prescribed by the legislature as required by Article 43 of the constitution. He said the LNBA also maintains the view that the Senate violated Article 73 of the constitution, by removing the justice for performing his legal duty.
“The removal of a justice for performing a legal duty creates a precedent that has the potential of making other judges, especially of subordinate courts, to be afraid to freely perform their legal duties when it comes to cases in which the interest of government or of powerful persons or entities are involved, thereby defeating the purpose for which courts exist in our system of government,” he said.
“Given this position of the LNBA, our presence here today is not an approval of the reason for which we were cited, for the constitution does not require such. We are here because [the] failure of a lawyer to appear and perform any service required by the court is contemptuous.”
The LNBA president said while he should be happy and celebrating the elevation of the newly appointed associate justice who is his former student from the University of Liberia, he cannot be in such mood because Ja’neh, another former student of his, was removed unconstitutionally.
“Officially, as president of the LNBA, I cannot celebrate because to do so will be contrary to the official position of the LNBA,” Gongloe said.
According to him, the removal of associate justices in Liberia has always been controversial, as they have been controlled by the politics of the day and not the controlling law of the day. He referenced the removal of Associate Justice McCants Stewart in 1915, who according to him was, also, removed for political reasons.
“Given that the removal of Justice Ja’neh was devoid of any legal reason, it can be concluded that his removal was for political reasons. This is not good for our country,” he noted.
“Both the House of Representatives and the Senate have the rights to impeach and remove a justice, respectively. However, such a process must be in keeping with the law.”
He also referenced that, in the United States, which Liberia has its reference jurisdiction, only one justice of the 112 justices that have been appointed since 1790 has been impeached, but added that none has been removed.
“This means that as old as the United States is, it has not removed any associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States,” he added, referencing an article.
The LNBA president also cautioned members on the Supreme Court bench to stand up in defense of the rights of each other against any illegal action from the Executive or the Legislature Branches, noting that it goes without saying that the violation of the rights of one person is the beginning of the violation of the rights of all. He assured them of the bar’s support in any such stance on the part of the court.
While making his statement, Gongloe was interrupted and prevented from making further comments by Chief Justice Francis Korkpor, who warned him that he may be denied the opportunity to speak at future ceremonies organized by the court if he continued being provocative in his comments.
“Mr. President of the Bar, the purpose of responding to the opening address or whatever occasion at this court you should stick to what is being said. But to always take the opportunity to come and say something that is not of [the] issue is provocative and the continuance will deny you from speaking in this court,” Korkpor said.
“As a member of this court, you asserted during the opening of March 2019 term of court that the court was responsible for the deaths of 250,000 people during the civil conflict, which was unfair to us.”
According to the chief justice, the purpose of the ceremony was to celebrate with Justice Kaba, rather than discussing the removal of Justice Ja’neh.
Justice Minister Musa Dean and Gongloe were the only two individuals asked to make remarks following the induction of Justice Kaba.
Kaba, who previously served as vice president at the ECOWAS Court of Justice and several other positions in the Liberian justice system, has promised to work within the confines of the law.
“As an associate justice, I will focus on the law and it will include putting the law over my relation and tribe. I will also maintain my independence while serving on the Supreme bench,” he said in a brief remark following his induction to the Supreme Court bench.
Featured photo by Maima Morine Pewee