BUCHANAN, Grand Bassa – The resident judge of the Second Judicial Circuit Court has warned judicial actors against unethical behavior to extract money from citizens.
Judge Joe Barkon made the statement last week during the opening of the May term of court in Buchanan.
“We want to caution all judicial actors to take cognizance and see the court as a place of redress and relief, where integrity, fairness, honesty, and transparency should be the hallmark for the administration of justice and not a gambling ground where the order of the day is to gain cash prize at all cost,” Barkon said.
“During the February term of court, this court and the entire jurisdiction of the Second Judicial Circuit Court has been challenged by the wave of unethical conduct on the part of judicial officers, specifically a magistrate and the clerk of the probate division of the Second Judicial Circuit.”
Barkon was referring to Associate Magistrate David Foday of the Compound Three Magisterial Court, who had extorted L$64,000 (US$400) from a litigant under the pretext of a fee for transferring the case for appeal to the circuit court.
“He was cited, investigated, and [he] admitted to such unethical behavior,” Barkon said. “He was detained and made to restitute the full amount with immediate effect and the matter was reported to the Chief Justice, His Honor Francis S. Korkpor, Sr.”
Barkon also detailed that a probate clerk, Nathaniel T. Johnson, was caught impersonating as a justice of the peace for Grand Bassa. Johnson had apparently manufactured a stamp for the position, even though Barkon said he had never been commissioned by the government to occupy the role.
“Mr. Johnson undisputedly admitted to the commission of the act of impersonating and forging [the] court’s documents and further said that he has been doing this for a very long period of time, and records in the court revealed that this fraudulent act occurred between the periods 2009 to 2018,” Barkon added.
Because of the grave nature of the offense, the judge said Johnson has been suspended and transferred to the police for further investigation and subsequent prosecution.
He added, “This court and this judge will not entertain nor encourage anything on the contrary to those provisions enshrined in our judicial canon, the Code of Moral and Professional Ethics and the rules of court.”
He noted that during the February term of court, the court docket recorded about eight criminal cases and twelve civil cases. Of the eight criminal cases, two were heard and disposed of.
The judge said the court has not heard the civil cases on the docket because lawyers who filed those cases on behalf of their clients have neglected or refused to appear, thereby jeopardizing the legal interest of litigants after receiving legal fees.
“This attitude on the part of lawyers is very troubling and is in complete violation of Rules 5 and 21 of the Code of Moral and Professional Ethics governing the practice of law by lawyers in Liberia, for which this court shall institute some measures to curtail said unwarranted act on the part of lawyers,” Barkon said.
He noted the more than 12 pre-trial detainees who were held at the Buchanan Central Prison for minor offenses beyond the statutory period without trial were released during the February term of court.
“We wish to encourage our magistrates to engage in holding pre-trial conferences in resolving some of these matters to cut short the prolonged detention of accused persons without trial,” the judge noted.
He reaffirmed the commitment of his court to work with county authorities, the Grand Bassa Legislative Caucus, and civil society organizations to ensure that justice is dispensed; however, he promised to be independent in dispensing justice and upholding the rule of law.
Featured photo by Sampson David