Liberia’s Supreme Court Chief Justice, Francis Korkpor, has come to the limelight for signing to a judgment made by the full bench of the Supreme Court in a case he’s accused of having special interest.
The case in question is an appeal for the reopening of the Intestate Estate of the late Peter Bonner Jallah, Sr. in which Peter Bonner Jallah, Jr, served as an Appellant/Respondent and Rev. Ola Jallah, Mazzah Jallah, Justine Jallah and Beatrice Jallah served as Appellees/Petitioners.
Ruling of the full bench of the
It was heard by the full bench of the Supreme Court sitting in its October Term in 2015.
When the case was called for hearing, A.W. Octavius Obey, Sr. of the Yonah, Obey and Associates Law Firm and Cooper W. Kruah, Sr. of the Henries Law Firm appeared for Appellant, while Counselor Yarmie Quiqui Gbeisay, Sr. of the Tiala Law Associates, Inc. appeared for the Appellees.
At the end of the hearing, the full bench of the Supreme Court adjudged that the case revert to the Probate Court for continuation for hearing and determination consistent with Descent and Estate Law.
“The case having lingered in court for years, and for the purpose of conserving the estate and save it from any further loss and waste, we hereby direct in the interest of justice and fair play, that a representative each named by the two parties, be appointed by the Probate Judge to work with the Curator of the court, who are hereby charged with the duty of temporary administration of the Estate,” The Supreme Court asserted in the ruling.
The ruling was signed by Kabineh M. Ja’neh, Associate Justice; Jamesetta Howard-Wollokollie, Associate Justice; Philip A.Z. banks, III Associate Justice and Francis S. Korkpor Sr., Chief Justice.
Madam Justice Yuoh recused herself from the hearing and determination and therefore did not sign the ruling.
Documents in the possession of this news outlet reveal that the ruling of the Supreme Court upset the Appellant who wrote then President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf complaining Chief Justice Korkpor of being the owner of the Tiala Law Firm that represented his opponents in the case.
He added that Chief Justice Korkpor should have rescued himself because he had interest in the case.
Documents in the possession of concordtimes.net show that Tiala Law Firm which Cllr. Yarmie Quiqui Gbeisay worked for, is owned by the Chief Justice and that he named it after his daughter.
When a team of Journalists including the writer of this story contacted Chief Justice Korkpor at his Supreme Court office recently, he confirmed that he signed to the full bench’s ruling. Chief Justice Korkpor said he acted within the scope of the laws of the Liberia.
“Do you know when I got appointed to this bench,” the Chief Justice snapped rather uncomfortably. “I got here long time ago as an associate justice and by the time I took seat, I had resigned from the Tiala Law Firm.”
“So what do you want to know?” Justice Korkpor asked.
The writer of this story replied to him, “In your mind, were you not bias, or say in violation of the Constitution of Liberia when you signed to the ruling of a case in which a lawyer from a firm owned by you represented other party litigants?” He replied: “I told you I resigned long time ago.”
And when Chief Justice Francis Korkpor was further pressed to reconcile resigning as lawyer for the Tiala Law Firm and at the same time maintaining ownership of the firm, he quipped: “Just by allowing you in my office and questioning me shows that I don’t intimidate journalists.”
The Liberia Chief Justice insisted that he did not break the law and later told the team of journalists that he was very busy and should go and publish whatever they wanted to publish about him.
Prior to meeting the Chief Justice, Attorney-At-Law Ambrose Nmah, said to be the Communication Officer at the Temple of Justice, when contacted on the same case replied: “The Chief Justice acted right by signing to the full bench ruling, especially so when none of the party litigants requested him to recuse himself from the case.” Attorney-At-Law Nmah said there is no law in the Liberian jurisprudence that stops judges of lower courts or justices of the Supreme Court from signing rulings because of interest in the case.
The Appellant in the case, Peter Bonner Jallah, Jr. himself a lawyer and former minister of justice of Liberia, when contacted on the issue, said Attorney-At-Law Ambrose Nmah may be right that there are no laws on the books in Liberia to compare adjudicators to recuse themselves in cases they got interest but pointed to precedents in Liberia where judges and justices of the Supreme Court recused themselves when they had interest in those cases. He added that a professional lawyer like the chief justice needed not to be told to recuse himself in cases he has serious interest in.
Cllr. Peter bonner Jallah, Jr. revealed that Associate Justice Youh recused herself from the very case because he (Jallah) got relation with Justice Youh’s sister, adding that Associate Justice Youh professionally recused herself from the case even without protest or request for her to do so from any party litigant.
He told Concordtimes.net that the action of the Chief Justice infuriated him, prompting him to write a letter of complaint to Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who was the president of the country at the time of the case.
In the letter dated September 19, 2016, Cllr . Peter bonner Jallah, Jr, said: “I am constrained to bring to your attention the conflict of interest being exhibited by the Chief Justice, Hon. Francis S. Korkpor, Sr. by presiding over cases which emanate from the Tiala Law Associates.”
He told President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf that Tiala Law Firm is owned by Chief Justice Korkpor and was named after his (Korkpor’s) daughter, Tiala born on July 16, 1987.
“Attached is a letter written by Chief Justice Korkpor from the Tiala Law Associates, Inc., in which it states he was the Managing Director of this Law Firm,” Cllr. Jallah told former President Sirleaf in the letter.
The letter continued: “Attached are documents from a ruling where the issue at bar was: can a Probate Court Judge review the decision of another Probate Court Judge? The answer is definitely NO. Also, it is not proper for the Supreme Court to delve into issues not before it. The Supreme Court delved into issues raised in the lower court, which is the right of the party litigants.”
Cllr. Jallah said further in the letter: “Associate Justice Youh is my sister-in-law; she recused herself from said litigation. Chief Justice Korkpor, the past Managing Director of this Law Firm did not recuse himself from this matter.”
He revealed in the letter that the Supreme Court records were replete with many of such incidents but added that many persons were afraid to pursue this route. “This has to be curtailed for transparency”, Cllr. Jallah said to President Sirleaf in the letter. The former Liberian Justice Minister disclosed that despite his letter of complaint, he did not get any redress from President Johnson-Sirleaf.
The Chief Justice’s action has received reactions amongst Liberian lawyers. Several renowned Liberian lawyers, who requested not to be named in this publication, criticized the Chief Justice’s action. They said the Chief Justice was wrong to sign to the full bench’s ruling because he had interest in the case. That’s simply conflict of interest, one of them said.
One of them indicated that all lawyers in Liberia know that Tiala Law Firm is owned and founded by Cllr. Francis Korkpor.
He stated that while it is true that he might have resigned as lawyer of the firm upon his appointment to the Supreme Court bench, he still maintains ownership of the law firm. According to the lawyer, Chief Justice Korkpor failed to lead by example and therefore placed upon himself integrity problem.
He alleged that there is a law on the books that forbids adjudicators from getting in conflict of interest, which he said is an impeachable offense. He disclosed that there is a Supreme opinion on this kind of behavior.
The lawyer stressed that by Chief Justice Francis Korkpor’s action, he has violated Article 71 of the Liberian Constitution.
Article 71 of the Liberia Constitution says: “The Chief Justice and the Associate Justices of the Supreme Court and judges of subordinate courts of record shall hold office during good behavior. They may be removed upon impeachment and conviction by the Legislature based on proved misconduct, gross breach of duty, inability to perform the function of their office or conviction in a court of law for treason, bribery or other infamous crimes.
The lawyer added that by Chief Justice Francis Korkpor’s affirmation of signing to the full bench’s ruling in the aforementioned case, he has allegedly breached the confidence of the public and has entangled himself in an integrity web that could lead to possible impeachment.