MONROVIA, Montserrado – Members of the House of Representatives have voted to impeach Associate Justice Kabineh Ja’neh from the Supreme Court. The matter has now been transferred to the Senate for a trial, over which the chief justice will preside.
On Tuesday, August 28, 2018, 23 of the 49 representatives present voted to impeach the associate justice, while one lawmaker, Rep. Francis Nyumalin of Lofa’s first district, voted against. Another lawmaker, Rep. Thomas Goshua of Grand Bassa’s fifth district, abstained from voting while the remaining representatives walked out of the session, including the eight representatives from Nimba who were present.
The Nimba lawmakers said they were protesting because the process did not respect the law.
Rep. Johnson Gwaikolo of Nimba’s ninth district said impeaching someone requires a gross violation of a provision of the law or regulation of the country. He added that the ongoing impeachment proceedings were not done in accordance with the constitution.
He said the resolution adopted was not discussed on the floor and no copy was presented to members; rather, it was only the committee members who had access to the document.
“We should not have carried out the impeachment the way it was carried,” he said. “And those are some of the reasons why we walked away from the session.”
He said the Nimba lawmakers’ actions were not simply because Ja’neh is a Nimba citizen, but it was intended to protect the constitution.
Gwaikolo said he hoped the Senate would act as a body of elders and look at the facts because “what the House of Representatives did is purely political.”
“The Senate serves as the judiciary forum at which the legal argument will be handled, and the matter will be resolved based on the facts and circumstances presented by both parties,” he said.
“We are walking out because the process is not consistent with our law,” said another Nimba lawmaker, Rep. Dorwohn Gleekia of the sixth district.
“The rules have been ignored; I’m not pleased.”
Reading the bill of impeachment, the chief clerk of the House of Representatives said Ja’neh would now be suspended as associate justice but would continue receiving his salaries and benefits. However, the Liberian constitution makes no provisions for such suspension based solely on an impeachment bill.
Montserrado’s eighth district representative, Acarous Moses Gray, who had submitted the impeachment bill along with Thomas Fallah of Montserrado’s fifth district, celebrated the historic event, claiming that it was the first time an associate justice had been impeached in Liberia.
He said the decision was not a witch hunt, but an adherence to the constitutional mandate given lawmakers. Gray encouraged Ja’neh to resign to avoid further embarrassment.
“We will never revert to the past of jungle justice; our justice system will be the court,” he added.
Gray and Fallah wrote in their petition that “some time ago,” Ja’neh abused his power to prevent a now deceased businessman, Austin Clarke, from collecting a US$1 million judgment in a case of defamation against Ecobank. They cited another case where they say Ja’neh used his influence as a Supreme Court justice “to become both a player and a referee in a land dispute in which no lawyer dared take on him because he is an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of Liberia and enjoys the luxurious trappings associated with such office and is hiding behind his office and status to sport with the rights of innocent Liberians.”
The impeachment has been a contentious matter between the Supreme Court and the House of Representative. After the proceedings began, the Supreme Court had placed an injunction on the process and requested that the House of Representatives come for a conference on the matter.
At the time, it was unclear whether the court had a legal right to interfere in the legislative process and many lawmakers contended that the court should not have responded in such manner. Along that line, the representatives dismissed the injunction.
The proceedings have now pitted the people and lawmakers of Nimba against the leaders of the House of Representatives who are pushing to remove a Nimba citizen from the high court.
Editor’s note: A previous version of this article said all nine Nimba lawmakers had walked out of the session. It has been corrected to reflect that Rep. Samuel Kogar was not present and did not join the Nimba delegation; only eight Nimba lawmakers walked out.
Ida Reeves contributed to this article. Featured photo by Zeze Ballah.