A Lawyer's Ethical Platitude
By Ahmed K. Sirleaf II
February 23, 2004
J. Fonati Koffa
" ...To have a place in the study, and practice of the Law is not by wisdom only, but by the sacred virtues of human dignity, and character..." Justice Benjamin Nathan Cardozo, The Growth of The Law (1924).
Law schools in the North America, and elsewhere grill candidates seeking admission to study law at their institutions. They probe, investigate, research, and question the candidate's backgrounds, not only to ascertain academic qualifications and the ability to withstand the rigors of advanced study of the law, and the inherent adverse environment thereupon, but also to forecast some other aspects of the would be attorney's ethics here to wit:
Character, character, character, and character alone. Why character of the lawyer? Because, they, lawyers, are the custodians of the public's trust, and confidence. Here, character, for our purposes, is a blanket word encompassing all sorts of good human qualities. These law schools are curious to have an insight into some fundamental questions before they proceed to consider the applicant's candidacy.
Would this person be an honest attorney? Do they have excellent morals, would they keep the public's trust? Are they reliable? Are they hardworking? Can they represent the perpetual integrity of our law school? To put it bluntly, are they ethical?
Obliviously our learned counselor, Jonathan F. Koffa's law school application provided only skewed answers to some of questions raised above, but apparently, not enough to have prevented the UNC-Chapel Hill from admitting him into its student body. The University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill had no absolute way of predicting what Koffa's line of practice of the law would have led to.
Today, not only has counselor Koffa put his own legal career into serious jeopardy, as a result of his alleged anti-ethical practices, but he has also brought shame, embarrassment, disappointment, and disrepute to his fellow compatriots who are in and /or seek similar line of career.
It would more so be serious when other Liberian lawyers and/or would be lawyers are treated with skepticism. Albeit, would other Liberian lawyers and /or would be lawyers' characters be questioned as well; based upon the precedence provided by our predecessor, counselor Koffa. There is every reason, than there is not, to think this. For the practice of the law itself is based upon precedence. In Latin, it is called Stare Decisis; the previous decision stands.
This is a man who has worked hard to reach where he did. This was a man whom Liberians would have been proud of. This is a man who was privileged and had extraordinary opportunities in his path. Something must have gone terribly wrong! For what else could a man have wanted to satisfy an ideal American dream? He had actualized his American dream.
Alas, the advent of the Internet has made the world as small as a mouse click away. There is no place for absconders to run to anymore. Where else can counselor Koffa practice law, if the allegations against him are indeed proven to be true? Don't get me wrong, as I do fervently believe in the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. However, I am afraid time is not in favor of the learned counselor.
These are serious allegations, insofar as the American Bar Association (ABA) is concerned. There are what we call The ABA Model Rules, and ABA Model Codes that adequately address these, and other professional responsibility and ethical matters.
Under the ABA Model Code, all jurisdictions have some rules that require attorneys to turn over papers, property, funds money, and unearned advanced fees on termination of representation, for example. ABA Model Code DR 2-110(A) and ABA Model Rule 1.16(d), emphasize the lawyer's obligation to protect his/her client's interest, with extension of his duty after termination of representation.
In other words, if Counselor Koffa were to argue that he was no longer advising and /or representing Rolesville Town up to his abscoundment, and or perhaps, that he had not enough time to notify his clients of his sudden departure to Liberia, he would still be held accountable to his clients, which he would not be arguing in this instance for the evidence are preponderance.
There are allegations that counselor Koffa's clients have requested him to return their funds he had in trust, and have (clients) so far not received their money. It is also alleged, however, that the counselor has reportedly teleconferenced from Liberia on similar matters but failed to clear allegations about the clients' funds. Well, under the ABA Model Codes, he has an obligation to promptly return the funds in question. ABA Model Code DR 9-102 (b); ABA Model Rule 1.15(b).
Another allegation was, according the Newsobserver article (newsobserver. Com, 2/19/04), that one client, Betty Strickland, a Zebulon real estate agent, had issued a $ 73,000 check on a trust account held by counselor Koffa, and there was no money in the bank at the time, when it supposed to have been there. The counselor said, " It must have been a mistake." He apologized for the behavior. That is called commingling of client's funds with the attorney's. Commingling of fund is a separate ground for sanction other than conversion of client's fund. Here, it seems both of these serious allegations have been leveled against the counselor.
Under both ABA Model Rules, and Model Codes, lawyers are to keep clients' fund/money separate from his/her own money or accounts. He is also to give full accounting of client funds and property when requested to do so and/or when representation has ended.
There are also other settled anti-ethical behaviors that have been reported against counselor Koffa. To the ordinary person, some of these allegations may appear dismissive. But, if you are in the business of the law, every thing counts as far ethics and professional responsibility. For instance, there are reported misrepresentations of facts regarding Koffa's citizenship and/or the lack thereof. If this is true, then it is a character problem.
According to the Newsoberser's article, id, Koffa reported that he was born in Chicago. The immigration records refute that, showing him to have attained U.S citizenship only in 1999.
That he also willfully reported on his marriage certificate in 1985, that Liberia was his birthplace. Probably, if the UNC-Chapel Hill Law School had had strict discrepancies in records intentionally reported by Koffa, he would have had a hard time obtaining admission to law school in the first place.
The counselor Charles Brumskine connection:
We have yet to ascertain as to what alleged connection does counselor Koffa have with the Charles Brumskine campaign effort for the presidency of the Republic of Liberia. But, if the two were in cohort to run campaign in Liberia for the former to become president of our country, then I would say that the presidential hopeful, Brumskine, is in serious trouble by now.
Brumskine must speak up now, if not distancing himself from these serious allegations, but at least refuting these allegations with convincing evidence to clear his protégé. Remember the old adage that " silence gives consent." Or else the Koffa stigma may smear his campaign.
OK, Counselor let's say nearly half-a million dollars is a lot of money to be accused of absconding with. Or maybe, it is nothing to a wealthy lawyer of your status, and wealth. Why the silence? Why don't you come forth to clear the air and your "good" name? Why don't you save us our breaths and ink, for we keep pondering over the paradoxes that don't seem hold together.
Please do the right thing counselor, for we are only concerned. Save the Legal Profession's name! I rest my case. But, remember, the public judge sustained my objection.
About the Author: Mr. Ahmed K. Sirleaf II, can be reached @: email@example.com Or (651) 208-0463.