By Grace Q. Bryant
Chief Justice Francis Saye Korkpor says by not applying sanctions against judicial actors should not be taken as an act of defending acts of bribery rather that the Supreme Court must be privy to the required information to apply punishment.
Delivering his charge virtually at the opening of the March Term of Court yesterday, Chief Justice Korkpor reiterated that the high court maintains a zero tolerance for bribery and all forms of corrupt practices.
Speaking on the high court’s position as it relates to the December 9, 2020, United States Treasury Department Report captioned: “Treasury Sanctions Corrupt Actors in Africa and Asia” thereby placing the Global Magnitsky Designations on several individuals in some countries including Liberia, the Supreme Court Judge noted that, “The information contained in the report was insufficient to serve as a basis for the Supreme Court to apply sanctions against the referenced judicial actors.”
Chief Justice who assured that the court does not and will never allow or condone the act of any lawyer, party litigant or anyone whatsoever desiring to exercise influence over the Judiciary said the Code for Moral and Ethical Conduct of Lawyers and Judicial Cannons for the Moral and Ethical Conduct of Judges promulgated by the court provides penalties for the violation of the Code or Cannons which include fine, suspension, impeachment and/or prosecution in a court of law, depending on the gravity of the violation.
He further explained that Article 75 of the Constitution of Liberia vests in the Supreme Court the power to make rules of court to regulate the practice of law and prescribe a code of conduct for lawyers and all subordinate courts to facilitate the proper discharge of courts’ functions.
Chief Justice Korkpor said in all cases, before appropriate actions are taken, a formal complaint is filed, the accused judicial actor is furnished with a copy, investigation is conducted by the body responsible, and hearings are conducted by the Supreme Court as the last step before penalties are imposed which is a process to accord the accused judicial actors the cardinal principle of due process.
He explained that in the statement, the Treasury Department alleged that Cllr. Harry Varney Gboto-Nambi Sherman, a prominent lawyer, Liberian Senator, and the Chairperson of the Liberian Senate Judiciary Committee, “offered bribes to multiple judges associated with his trial for a 2010 bribery scheme and had an undisclosed conflict of interest with the judge who ultimately returned a not guilty verdict in his favor in 2019.”
Adding that, the statement further accused the counsellor of routinely paying judges to decide cases in his favor and that his acts of bribery demonstrated a larger pattern of behavior to exercise influence over the Liberian judiciary and the Ministry of Justice.
“The statement, no doubt, casts serious aspersions not only on the integrity and credibility of the Counsellor named and the judges alluded to therein, but also on the Liberian Judiciary as an institution responsible for the fair and impartial hearing and disposition of cases,” the High Priest of the Judiciary noted.
However, he recounted that during the October 2020 Term, the Supreme Court heard and decided 32 cases and amongst them were cases emanating from the Judicial Inquiry Commission (JIC) and the Grievance & Ethics Committee (GEC) in which complaints of ethical and professional misconducts were filed against judges and lawyers.
Chief Justice Korkpor narrated that after conducting hearings into the complaints, some judges and lawyers were found to be in the wrong and when the cases travelled to the Supreme Court it was established that indeed, the conduct of the judges and lawyers found wanting were so outrages.
“This is not the first time this Court has taken such actions against judges and lawyers. Over the years, reports of ethical transgressions of judges and lawyers have been scrupulously investigated by the JIC and the GEC and appropriate actions taken by the Supreme Court. By these actions, this Court has regularly sanctioned judges and lawyers. In more egregious cases, we have recommended the removal of those whose acts are inimical to the core values of the Judiciary,” he stated.
He expressed that it is the institution and not those in leadership that really matters adding, “This is why we always welcome constructive criticisms on the Opinions we deliver because it is good for the development of our jurisprudence. But it is patently wrong when one’s emotion, flowing from sheer hatred against or political conjecture about the head of an institution is allowed to becloud his/her judgment when criticizing the institution.”
Meanwhile, the Chief Justice among other things stated that when lies, speculations and innuendos reach a point to have the propensity of affecting the credibility of the institution one heads, then it becomes necessary to speak.
Commenting on what he referred to as few of the lies told against him, Chief Justice Korkpor said it was reported and widely circulated that he is eyeing the Vice-Presidential position to President George Weah in 2023 and so his judicial actions and decisions are being influenced by political inclinations.
“This report is untrue, farfetched and ludicrous. I stand by all judgments I sign as a Justice of this Court of last resort to be correct based on how I understand the facts and applicable laws in every given case. I have no doubt that my colleagues do the same,” he said sternly.
“And let me be categorical and state for the records that I have had no talks with President Weah, his political party or any other person or political party concerning my being a Vice Presidential running mate. And if, in the event such offer is made, I will respectfully decline,” the Chief Justice assured.
“I want Liberians to know that I have no particular penchant for power; mine is service to my country; God and the people of this nation have honored me with public service for which I am extremely grateful,” he said.
“On retirement from the Supreme Court on September 5, 2022, I will go into private life and will seek no elective office. If, at that time, I am still in good health, by the grace of God, I will serve my community, Church and Country in other capacities,” the 69 year-old Justice pointed out.