The Row Between Liberian Lawmakers & Lawyers Continues

The Perspective

October 31, 2001

Rather than subsiding or being resolved, the row between the Liberian National Bar Association and members of the national Legislature continues to heighten. The row stemmed from the detention of two key members of the Liberian Bar Association on the orders of the national legislature on charges of "contempt", and their refusal to retract statements issued several weeks ago that the Liberian Legislature had overstepped their bounds, and its action was "unconstitutional", when it ordered the imprisonment of the Bar Association's President, Counselor Emmanuel J. Wureh.

Just a month ago, Counselor Wureh, now released, had served as counsel to Speaker Nyundueh Monkornomana, who himself was disgraced and forced to resign, but was later reelected, after being subjected to an investigation involving charges of embezzlement and falsification of academic credentials brought against him by fellow lawmaker, Mr. Abel Massalley (In spite of his reelection, the findings of the Gbabo Committee is yet to be issued). It was reported that Counselor Wureh had made disparaging remarks about the lawmakers, which prompted them to take the extreme and illegal action of ordering his arrest and detention.

Following this action, the Liberian National Bar Association called for the immediate and unconditional release of its President, and dubbed the action on the part of the legislators as unconstitutional. Two leaders of the Bar , Counselors Marcus Jones, Vice President of the Bar and Law Professor, and Ishmael Campbell, President of the Montserrado Bar Association, are currently languishing in jail because of their refusal to withdraw their statement and to pay fines that were imposed. The lawyers were fined LD$4,999.99.

According to reports, the lawyers contend that the detention of their two colleagues is "unconstitutional" because they've been denied their due process--- "their fundamental rights to counsel, to be confronted by their accusers and to be heard before being condemned, were not respected and upheld."

Challenging this move on the part of the lawmakers, the Bar immediately summoned its membership to engage in civil disobedience action by boycotting all courts and administrative agencies to protest the detention of their leaders. The lawyers have vowed not to renew their court activities until their leaders are released.

"The boycott is now in its third week, and has effectively paralysed the courts, including the Supreme Court before which the lawyers have refused to appear", PANA reported.

Amidst this crisis, President Taylor in a recent Talk Show on DC101.1 FM, threatened that he would do everything to "force" the lawyers back to court. Pursuant to this, the Liberian government recently filed a "Writ of Mandamus", pleading with the Supreme Court to compel members of the Bar Association to resume court attendance.

According to press reports, Associate Justice Wilkins Wright, over the weekend ruled that the matter had "grave constitutional implications" which he could not unilaterally decide, and he was therefore forwarding the case to the full bench of the Supreme Court to decide it.

President Taylor also hinted that since most of the lawyers were legal counsels to government agencies, the Liberian government “could instruct government ministries and public corporations that are connected with the Liberian government to terminate the agreement if they continue to obstruct the process of justice in the country.” In the past, the government used this tactics to force some newspapers that were critical of the government to fold.

One Liberian lawyer commenting on this crisis said, "we the Liberian lawyers in the Diaspora, especially the United States, could assist by lending our voice to our colleagues at home."

But a Liberian journalist was a bit more critical when he said, "Liberian lawyers in the United States are obsessed with careerism... and some are running after their presidential ambitions, and have no time for their fellow brothers [and sisters] in Liberia."

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