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Cllr. Brumskine and President Taylor - An Apology to Charles Brumskine

By Carlos B. Zyankpah Smith Esq

The Perspective

October 24, 2001

I want to comment on Cllr. Mohamedu Jones’ ‘Does Cllr. Brumskine have the history, character, temperament and judgment to be the president Liberia needs?’

My goal is to invoke a consideration of the rules of conduct for the ensuing election short of mud slinging. I believe unwarranted character assassination is divisive to the formation of any potential political coalition, which is desirable, or may drive away potential candidates. Obviously, this is what the common opposition wants. If relevant issues are defined, then another goal would have been met.

At the onset, I must point out that Mr. Jones is an honorable man and must therefore assume his intentions are honorable, i.e., not mere propaganda nor a character assassination attempt with unintended consequences to the benefits of the ‘incumbent’. But, Brutus too was an honorable man. My concern here is not that he raised the issues. I am more concerned with the veracity of the allegations contained in the document and the impact. This brings into focus the source of the information, not withstanding whatever motive may be present. Is Mr. Jones assuming facts that are not proven? A salient guideline here is not to assume a fact not proven. What about the issues of relevancy - both spatial and temporal? Mr. Jones, a professional lawyer, is aware of these elementary rules of evidence. Again, there is the statistical consideration of the sufficiency of the data to support a conclusion. Has Mr. Jones applied these principles? I have my doubts.


Mr. Jones respects Charles Brumskine "personally and professionally" He states that he, Brumskine, is intelligent, well educated, and is a successful lawyer. He agrees that Brumskine has the ‘intellectual and educational personal history" to be president of Liberia and if elected could even be a great president.

After such a remarkable opening statement, Mr. Jones contradicts himself with an attempt to examine the history, character, temperament and judgment of Mr. Brumskine – having pre-concluded that Mr. Brumskine has some explaining to do. Mr. Jones continues with a narrative of what he believes are Brumskine’s shortcomings. Let us consider some of the issues raised.


"Does Mr. Brumskine have the temperament to be the kind of president Liberia needs? Can he exercise power in a restrained manner?" Mr. Jones apparently disagrees and states that Mr. Brumskine was intemperate at the Louis Arthur Grimes School at Law where he served as an assistant professor.

I have a problem with the temporal relevance and the sufficiency of the data to support this conclusion. Mr. Brumskine is about 50 years old and taught at the law school between 1983 and 1985 - nearly sixteen years ago. What is the relevance now? What were specific instances of his show of intemperance and how many instances are we talking about, if such incidents occurred at all? Are we confusing intemperance with assertiveness? Perhaps the problems were his use of the Socratic method of teaching, employed in most law schools. Many persons unaccustomed to the rigors of questioning, initially find this approach to be offensive.

I have known Charles Brumskine from boyhood days – since I crossed the confluence of rivers (St. John, Benson, and the Mechlin Rivers), met him in Upper Buchanan and we trekked the more than five miles of unpaved road to Lower Buchanan to attend the Bassa High School. We both attended the University of Liberia and were classmates at the Louis Arthur Grimes School of Law in the late seventies and early eighties. We have maintained personal and professional relationship over the years. I dare say I know the Charles Brumskine and beg to disagree, admitting that Charles is assertive but tactful in dealing with people.


" When he was president pro tempore, Cllr. Brumskine vigorously opposed imposing any restriction on members of the legislature practicing law in courts before judges whom they could impeach. " Mr. Jones raises the issues of undue influence, conflict of interest, and the appearances of conflicts.

I suggest whether or not lawyers should practice in the courts is debatable and the practice may vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. To appreciate the dilemma, one must take into consideration the totality of the circumstances of the particular locality and guard against importing rules from foreign sources without regards for the local reality. It cannot be overemphasized that there is a dearth of professionally qualified lawyers in the fatherland and that highly qualified lawyers will usually prefer private practice to serving in the legislature for obvious reasons. The need to establish a quality legislature as opposed to a mere rubberstamp legislature must weigh against the need to have competent lawyers represent clients in the courts of Liberia – both situations being desirable. This is why legal giants like Counselor Joseph Patrick Findley, who served as senator for Grand Bassa County, Counselor Momo Fahnbulleh Jones, who served as representative of Grand Cape Mount County, among others, did not oppose the existing laws permitting legislators to practice before the courts. One must also wonder if Cllr. Jones’ close relative, Cllr. Varney Sherman, another qualified and successful lawyer, would had closed his law practice if his bid to become a Senator for Grand Cape Mount County had been successful.

Whether or not Mr. Brumskine should have opposed restriction during his tenure, if indeed he did, is still debatable on the ground that the country had just emerged from seven years of internal conflicts. Indeed many will argue that the country is still at war with the consequence of a brain drain. Many institutions were destroyed. This was the time - a situation we all know - to build new institutions or empower existing ones with new insights and behavior. Many of the legal professionals like Mr. Jones and I had fled the country. This compounded the existing shortage of lawyers who were needed to reshape our judiciary and legislature to serve as independent bodies rather than an extension of the president – a situation we are all know. Again, salaries were not forthcoming. How could one attract a cadre of professionals to staff these institutions? Remember the old adage that states, ‘where the professionals are not available, the availables become professionals?" What was the composition of the legislature in terms of lawyers vs. non-lawyers and what were the marginal benefits to exclude the few quality lawyers from practicing before the courts? In all fairness to Mr. Jones, he asked for reasons for Mr. Brumskine’s alleged opposition. Could these be some of the reasons? Admittedly, there is a need to avert conflict of interests, undue influence, etc, and the issues should be/will be addressed at the appropriate time.

Detracting Stories

"After Mr. Brumskine became president pro tempore of the Liberian Senate, stories began circulating in Monrovia that he was using his power to the disadvantage of others in the practice of law and doing business. There is the rumor of Mr. David Vinton’s forest and of taking clients from other lawyers by misusing the authority of his constitutional office."

Are we to go into the 2003 election on accusations based on rumors – especially when the facts can be easily obtained? The whereabouts of Mr. Vinton is known – Monrovia! Was he ever contacted to verify the rumor? Was Mr. Brumskine ever contacted to get his views before publication? The National Bar Association (Liberia) has a grievance and ethics committee. Is there any recordation of any complaint filed by any lawyer to this committee that Mr. Brumskine had so behaved? Obviously, the records of the committee would be the best evidence. Again, would this have been an ethical breach as regards to his position as a senator? Was any effort made to review the records of the senate to ascertain these allegations? Mr. Brumskine and other candidates, as public figures, are subject to our scrutiny, but decency demands that we act responsibly and this is what frightens me: mud slinging based on rumors without a showing of an attempt to investigate. Oh! I am sorry – Mr. Jones is an honorable man.

Cllr. Brumskine and Gus Kouvenhowen

"Cllr. Brumskine is (was) long time-retained counsel of Gus Kouvenhowen. "Gus" has had the reputation of being one of Liberia’s most influential businessmen since the Doe years. Gus is said to be a very "good friend" of Liberia’s heads of state from Doe to Taylor. He is also on the United Nations sanction list. How does Cllr. Brumskine see Gus in a Brumskine Administration?"

A legitimate question based on general knowledge, but I think Mr. Jah Fahnbulleh has already addressed that issue. Notwithstanding, any successful candidate must treat Gus Kouvenhowen and all foreign business within the framework of the law against the background of our national interest. To do otherwise, will drive away foreign investment needed for our socio-economic recovery. The issue here is not on Gus Kouvenhowen per se, but on how do we create the appropriate investment climate? What should be the investment policy regarding foreign businessmen? To formulate the appropriate policy, our successful candidate will draw on the experiences of those of us who have associated with these foreign investors either directly or indirectly. For example, it is no secret that Gus is (was) a close friend of Emmanuel Shaw, a former finance minister in the Doe government. He frequently visited Shaw at his home and the Ministry of Finance where a number of business deals were crossed – perhaps in furtherance or our national interest and within the framework of the law. But this is not the issue and I will not spread rumors. One of Mr. Shaw’s close advisors was counselor Mohamedu Jones who served as one of the legal counsels at the ministry and as Shaw’s personal attorney. Counselor Jones, being an honorable man, guarded against the misuse of public offices. Perhaps counselor Jones can serve as a resource person in this area to the successful candidate. In other words, the successful candidates can draw on the experiences of counselor Jones in the formulation of an investment policy. Of course, we do recall that while the war raged in Liberia, even before President Doe was assassinated, Cllr. Jones’ private and public client, the Honorable Emmanuel Shaw, Minister of Finance of the Republic of Liberia was attaching and selling government assets around the world allegedly for money that the Government owed his private business. And that is no rumor! Am I mud slinging? Perhaps so but with the sole purpose of invoking the legal maxim that equity requires clean hands. Mr. Jones is aware of this principle and I believe the principle is applicable although we are not in a court of law.

The President Pro Tempore of the Senate

Mr. Jones poses some legitimate questions regarding Brumskine’s accomplishments as a senator, more specifically as the president pro tempore of the senate. I believe this will give a glimpse of what to expect from a Brumskine’s administration. Worthy of note is the following question: "Did Senate President Pro Tempore Brumskine believe that Bai Gbala and his compatriots committed constitutional treason, and if he did not, did he publicly speak up?"

This is a question for the Judiciary. The Judiciary is the branch of government that interprets the law under our system based on the separation of powers. I want to believe (correct me if I am wrong) that any such public pronouncement from a high-ranking member of the legislature would have been tantamount to an infringement in the province of the judiciary and would have been a potential snag in the Brumskine’s quest for legislative independence. Brumskine as a private individual could have voiced an opinion. However, is it possible to separate Brumskine as a private individual from Brumskine as the senate president pro tempore?

I need not enumerate the accomplishments of Brumskine in the senate he served for about two years. My friend and brother, Jah Fanbulleh, has sufficiently addressed this issue and I am positive these accomplishments and several more will be furthered in a Brumskine administration. But at the risk of repeating Jah, let me list a few. He:

a) Sponsored legislations, which increased the number of small-scale businesses with greater access for Liberian citizens;

b) Mounted Legislative opposition to the sale of land to non Liberians prior to the enactment of land reform legislations that would grant title deeds to Liberians who have lived on public land for generations under the guise of tribal reserves without the right to ownership in fee simple; and

c) Opposed the president’s grant of monopoly rights to certain businesses, and prevented the passage of legislation that would have prevented Liberians from suing financial institutions to recover their pre-war bank deposits.

The Legislative archive is not the only depository of Brumskine’s accomplishment. There are interest groups that will vouch for his initiatives concerning the right of women and children of customary marriages to inherit and the application of customary laws in the courts of Liberia. Obviously, these will form important sections of the Brumskine agenda if he decides to contest the presidency.

But let us be mindful that the issue is not only what laws Brumskine opposed, proposed or supported. Laws can be enacted and are useless unless there is independence of the judiciary to interpret the laws and the political will on the part of the executive to implement the [laws]. How can we candidly assess the impact of any enactment in a very corrosive environment, which is characterized by abuses and disrespect for the law? Where the president has the power to dictate the course of a trial in the courtroom and an environment where people mysteriously disappear? I want to believe the focus for all candidates should be on whether they have the political will to institute the change that will provide the necessary check and balances among the three branches of government. In this respect, the role of the fourth branch (the press) cannot be overemphasized. May I suggest we focus more on a candidate’s platform rather than on accomplishments under Mr. Taylor?

Cllr. Brumskine & President Taylor

Again, Jah has addressed this issue. After the 1980 coup, many of us remained in Liberia because we saw a new dawn where justice would prevail for all Liberians regardless of ethnicity and or social standing. After the initial years, Doe lost his popularity amidst numerous human rights abuses and a seemingly chaotic situation. Why did we not leave? The answer is simple: we thought we could make a change – at least I thought that. We believed that Doe would make the transition from a lowly soldier to that of statesmen. Some of us considered the alternative: What would have been the plight of our brothers and sisters had we their intellectual custodians abandoned them? Were we mistaken? This is debatable.

The Jones’s logic is that Mr. Brumskine was once a "close personal and political alliance" of Mr. Taylor and is therefore in "big, big trouble". We need a working definition of "close personal and political alliance " for standing alone the phrase is vague and ambiguous for want of specificity and may be misleading with Jones’ unintended motive of inflaming the minds of the public. Is membership in Taylor’s National Patriotic Party sufficient? I doubt it. The cogent issue here is why did Brumskine become a member of the NPP? I can only attempt to give a perspective, as Mr. Brumskine is capable of answering himself. I propose that he felt enough atrocities had been meted to the Liberian people and a military victory for either of the faction was impractical. He had the foresight to publish in 1992 a paper entitled A Negotiated Settlement: Our Only Way Out (The Liberian Crisis), The Inquirer Newspaper, August 25, 1992. Was not the result of the Abuja accord a negotiated settlement?

Mr. Jones writes that Cllr. Brumskine was an early associate of President Taylor and his NPFL. "He was with Mr. Taylor in the Buchanan and Gbarnga days when war was relentlessly waged on Liberians by Mr. Taylor’s NPFL" We need some clarification. Is Mr. Jones referring to a physical presence of Cllr. Brumskine in the Gbarnga and Buchanan area? Is he claiming Cllr. Brumskine was a sympathizer of the NPFL who encouraged or condoned the atrocities?

It appears that Mr. Jones would have us believe that Mr. Brumskine lived in the areas of Liberia controlled by Taylor during the war. I am sure Mr. Brumskine would not mind giving his "friend and brother" his travel schedule during the war years. As a fellow Liberian lawyer, I do know that Mr. Brumskine took the New York State Bar Exam in July 1991, and that he was admitted to the Bar in January 1992. As Mr. Jones put it, and I do agree, Mr. Brumskine is "intelligent, well educated, and is a successful lawyer", but to prepare for the New York State Bar Exam while living in Gbarnga or Buchanan during the war would have required the feat of a superman. Mr. Jones knows this because he, like me, has also taken the New York State Bar Exam. I submit that to commit the time preparing to pass the New York State Bar Exam, only to practice law in Gbarnga and Buchanan, would have been the desire of a fool, and we have agreed that Mr. Brumskine is no fool. To the contrary, Mr. Brumskine indeed did work for the Law Offices of Essie F. Stevens in Washington, D.C. around this period.

Mr. Jones also wants the reading public to infer that Mr. Brumskine condoned Mr. Taylor’s atrocities. To the contrary, Mr. Brumskine felt he could assist our people and country in ending the war in Liberia and instilling integrity in government at a time when we needed it most. In other words, he could make a change. Today, many Liberians at home and abroad hold him in high regards for his role in initiating the necessary legislative oversight to curtail the power of the presidency personified by Mr. Taylor. He was forced to flee Taylor’s security apparatus. In passing, "Mr. Brumskine was an associate of Mr. Taylor," yet he conducted the Liberian Senate in a way that every Liberian, friends and foes, could be proud of. He established Senate committees to investigate allegations of Taylor’s involvements in Sierra Leone’s rebel war. Indeed Strange Things have happened and are happening!

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