By Atty Philip N. Wesseh (PNW)
One of the legal battles in recent time that continues to make headlines and dominate public discussion on radio is the case involving the Hage Estate. The case was decided by the Monthly and Probate Court of Montserrado County in favor of Mr. Bassam H. Jawhary against Oumou Sirleaf-Hage and others, which resulted to the losing part, rejecting the ruling of the court, thus fleeing to the Supreme Court for a writ of prohibition, meaning that the petitioners ( a party seeking relief on appeal), in this case, to the Supreme Court, urging it to prevent the enforcement of the ruling or judgment of the lower court.
It was after reviewing the matter, the Supreme Court, the highest court, then remanded (sent back) the matter to the lower court (The Monthly and Probate Court) for retrial after observing“several irregularities, errors, negligence and glaring misconduct,”which was antithesis to what the Supreme Court termed “transparent justice,”especially as it relates to “equity.” The court said it ordered the retrial so that “all of the parties are guaranteed full access to due process of law.”
As was rightly reported in the media, the Supreme Court judgment was rendered in the appeal involving his Honor J. Vinton Holder, Judge, Monthly and Probate Court for Montserrado County and Bassam H. Jawhary of the city of Monrovia, appellants and Oumou Sirleaf-Hage, Bashir M. Hage, Rachel M. Hage, Elie M. Hage, Tony M. Hage, Terrex G. Safi and Lor G. Azar of the city of Monrovia, appellees.
During the trial the lower court handled decision on a motion to exclude movants properties, the estate of the late Mr. Milad R. Hage and to order the audit by Mr. Bassam H. Jawhary’s handling of the estate funds. During the trial the lower court handed decision on a motion to exclude movants properties from the estate of the late Mr. Milad R. Hage and to order the audit of Mr. Bassam H. Jawhary’s handling of the estate’s funds.
Also in a motion of objection to the purported inventory filed by Mr. Bassam H. Jawhary to the estate of the late Mr. Milad R. Hage, the high court ruled that the Monthly and Probate Court resumes jurisdiction over the two petitions.
During the trial, the appellant was represented by Cllr. Milton D. Taylor of the Taylor & Associates, Inc and ClIr. Varna J. Blama of National Educators Lawyers Association of Liberia while Cllr. J. Emmanuel R. Berry of Berry Law Firm, Cllr. David A.B. Jallah of David A.B. Jallah Law Firm, ClIr. Frederick Doe Cherue of Dugbor Law Firm and Clir.Sayma Syrenius Julius Cephus represented the appellee.
In its judgment signed by Chief Justice Francis Kporkor and Associate Justices Jamesetta H. Wolokollie and Philip A.Z. Banks, III the Supreme Court stated that there were several irregularities, errors, negligence and glaring misconduct committed by the trial court in its interpretation of the Decedents Estates Law and in its overall handling of this matter.
Associate Justice Kabineh M. Ja’neh according to the judgment recused himself from the hearing and determination of the case while Justice Sie A-Nyene G. Yuoh heard and determined the case while presiding in chambers and therefore recused herself from the hearing and determination and did not sign the judgment.
Sometimes it is said that when a matter is in court, it is not proper for comments. But I believe that it depends on the kind of comments that are made on the matter since it is sub-judice. I take interest in this matter because of the many unanswered issues raised by the highest court which wants to ensure that transparent justice is done in this matter. To say it short, it has indeed raised many issues pertinent to making sure that justice prevails.
As I pursued copy of the ruling of the Supreme Court in this appeal, I was reminded of investigative journalism, which among other things seeks to establish the authenticity or veracity of a fact. The finding of the court suggests that many things were not done to ensure that proper justice was done. Regrettably, the media, including myself, did not give much attention to such an interesting case. Possibly, had we given much attention to it, some of those issues raised by the higher court, could have come to light.
In ordering the lower court (Monthly and Probate Court to resume jurisdiction over the case, the Supreme Court urged it to resume jurisdiction over this case and proceed as follows:
- a) Order the appellant to submit to the Monthly and Probate Court for Montserrado County a comprehensive inventory of the Hage Estate’s assets as well as liabilities, as required by the Decedents Estates Law.
- b) In connection with (a), further order that a comprehensive audit be conducted for both the period the executor administered the Hage and the period Ecobank collected proceeds of the state to cover loans given by Ecobank to the late Hage, to ensure that no illegal or irregular acts were perpetrated on the Estate. The audit shall include recommendations of steps and actions to be taken in the event of any findings of improper collection or use of the Estate’s funds by any of the fiduciaries. The forging acts shall be without prejudice to any actions commenced or pending in any courts of the Republic by or between any of the parties named herein,
c) Order the appellant to furnish a detail statement of the status of the loan facility the Hage Estate has with the Ecobank;
- d) Ensure that the appellant establishes an account in the name of the Hage Estate (if such account is not already established) into which all monies belonging to the Hage Estate are deposited for the operation of this account shall be with the approval of the Monthly and Probate Court for Montserrado County.
- e) Forthwith investigate the allegations of malpractices alleged to have been committed by the appellant in his handling of the Hage Estate’s properties, including the Estate’s funds;
- f) Revoke the appellant’s letters testamentary in the event that the investigation conducted pursuant to “e” above reveals that the appellant has engaged in misconduct or mismanagement of the affairs of the Hage Estate;
- g) Determine whether or not the lease agreement executed by and between Oumou Sirleaf-Hage and Miad R. Hage has expired in accordance with its terms and conditions, and in the event that aid lease agreement is determined to have expired, return all properties covered by the lease agreement to Oumou Sirleaf Hage;
- h) Determine whether or not the property or properties covered by the lease agreement include properties owned by the children of Milad R. Hage and Oumou Sirleaf-Hage, and if so, render void the lease agreement by and between Oumou Sirleaf-Hage and Milad R. Hage insofar as it covers and relates to the properties owned by said children;
- i) Determine whether or not the conduct of the appellant as relates to Oumou Sirleaf-Hage, constitutes a disavowal of the Last Will and Testament of Milad R. Hage, and if so, revoke the appellant’s letters testamentary and remove him from his position as Executor of the Hage Estate
- j) Determine where or not the disharmony between the appellant and the appellees necessitates an immediate closure of the Hage Estate
- k) Given that this case has been pending for a long time without final determination, the Monthly and Probate Court for Montserrado County is mandated to give its first priority handling.
Indisputably, anyone reading the issues raised by the Supreme Court would be left to realize that there were many unanswered issues during the trial in the lower court. Besides the legal issues, the court is also considering the issue of accountability of proceeds of the estate, as stated in the first two counts, in which the name of Ecobank, which provided loan to the late Hage, which the deceased reportedly used to invest in the Redlight Market area.
In some of these cases, sometimes focus is only placed on the parties to the suit. But interestingly, there might be others with interest in such legal matter. Yes, they might not be a party, but they are indirectly interested, like in the case of Ecobank because of some reasons. This can be likened to people who gave collateral and that in a situation with non performance in keeping with the term of the loan, this would affect them.
Again, it is regrettable that we did not follow, or if we did, failed to highlight it as we could have done if it was a political case. In the case of Ecobank, which again is not a party, we could haved determined as to whether or not the executor was performing well in keeping with the term of the loan. This is where investigative journalism comes in.
I decided on this matter today, to encourage media practitioners to always develop interest in legal matters because it is all about the due process of law, which is one of the goals the journalism profession espouses to. We should not only wait when it involves high-profiled people, but others as all are equal before the law.
Some may argue such cases not involving high-profiled people may not generate much interest. To this I say a BIG NO. As we are told, it is not just the story, but the way and manner in which the story is written or reported, whether in the print or electronic media. In fact, this involves “’conflict” which is one of the elements of news.
The widow of the man who died with intestate (leaving a will at death), is crying foul and injustice over the management of the state while the one said to be the executor is maintaining no wrong doing. This is the conflict that must be pursued;it is this conflict that necessitated the matter being taken to court.The good thing is that there is said to be a will whether it is holographic, nuncupative or typed.
As journalists, professionally and not deceptively or misleadingly, the way the story is written or reported can engender much public interest and debate in a matter, that does not involve “big names “or high profile-people, as the Constitution of Liberia Chapter Three, Article 11 (c ) which states, “all persons are equal before the law and are therefore entitled to equal protection of the law.” This provision of the Constitution did not say certain people or persons, but “all.” Therefore, we must consider issues too of the ordinary people or persons.
As the Supreme Court has ordered that “given that this case has been pending for a long time without final determination, the Monthly and Probate Court for Montserrado County is mandated to give it first priority handling,” we, as media people should follow it to its conclusion. Indeed, the Supreme Court has set the stage by raising the many unanswered issues or questions; hence, it behooves the media that always speak of justice, due process and rule of law, to take note in this matter.
Once more, this is not about passing judgment, as we are not clothed with that authority, but we can follow up the case, observing or taking note of the issues raised by the higher court. Whenever legal matters are ongoing, we should not wait until such matter reaches some level, but to report on it from start to finish. We made that same mistake with the FrontPage Versus. Toe case. We waited until it reached the Supreme Court, before showing interest in the case that started few years ago.
Again, today, the Hage Estate case is being highlighted in some quarters of the media. Why now? Howbeit, as it is said, “better late than never,’ hence, as the case has been remanded to the lower court, it is time to follow up, to ensure that, “all of the parties are guaranteed full access to due process of law,”as the Supreme Court has ordered.
Until we see legal matter, no matter who are involved as being very important issue to our justice system, I Rest My Case.