An Opportunity To Engage Judicial Reporters On The Case:“Oumou Sirleaf Hage et al VsBassamJahawary”

By Atty Philip N. Wesseh (PNW)

Sometimes ago, I wrote an article on the Hage Case in which I talked about the importance of follow up. The article was based on my observation by the Supreme Court that as directive it gave the lower court was not being implemented. I said that the high court discovered that only because it followed up on the matter. The issue of follow up is a major problem in the media and other institutions. I did the article at the time to pinpoint the essence of follow-ups in the media.

Fortunately for me, an opportunity has availed itself for me to delve into the issue of following up as I have been invited by the Association of Judicial Reporters (AJUR)to speak on the issue of the ethics of reporting on the judiciary. While a great portion of my interactions would be on ethics, I would equally use that opportunity to reinforce the issue of follow-ups because it is crucial to good journalism, especially when it involves justice, as in this case:’OumouSirleafHage et al VsBassamJahawary’.

While I would be making the issue of follow-ups is to determine as to whether or not judicial reporters have been following up on this matter in the wake of observation by the Supreme Court that its directive to the lower court had not been implemented, for which the judge of the Monthly and Probate Court, Judge J. Vinton Holder has been asked to rescue himself from the case, which is today of public concern because it has been dragging on for sometime now.

In my previous article on the matter entitled: “Follow Up – An Essential Tool in Administration: the Recent Supreme Court’s Action in the OumouSirleafHage Et Al Vs. BassamJahawary,” I recounted that the Supreme Court upon hearing a writ of prohibition in the case early last year, and after discovering numerous “irregularities ” ruled, among other things that the presiding judge of the Monthly and Probate Court, Holder should have handled the case “as a matter of priority.”

The Supreme Court at the time observed that the lawyer representing appellee Hage was negligent and careless and did not adequately and effectively represent the appellees’ interest therefore in order to serve the interest of transparent justice, equity demands that the case be remanded to the trial court for further proceedings so that all parties are guaranteed full access to due process.

The Bench further instructed Judge Holder, then presiding to resume jurisdiction over the case and ordered appellant Bassam to submit to the Monthly and Probate Court a comprehensive inventory of the Hage Estate assets as well as liabilities as required by the Decedents Estate Law. The high court also mandated that a comprehensive audit be conducted for both the period the executor administered the Hage properties and the period Ecobank collected proceeds of the estate to cover loans given by the bank to the late Hage to ensure that no illegal acts are perpetrated on the estate.

Among other things the court was under instructions to order appellant Bassam to furnish a detail statement of the status of the loan facility the Hage Estate has with Ecobank and revoke Bassam’s letters testamentary in the event that the investigation conducted pursuant to allegations of malpractices alleged to have been committed by Oumou in handling her husband’s estate properties including the funds revealed that he had engaged in misconduct or mismanagement of the Estate.

The court was also requested to determine whether or not the lease agreement executed by and between Oumou and her late husband had expired in accordance with its terms and conditions and if it determined to be so, that all properties covered by said agreement be returned to Oumou.

Equally so, Judge Holder was also responsible as judge presiding to determine whether or not the conduct of Bassam as it relates to Oumou constitutes a disavowal of the Last Will and Testament of MiladHage, her late husband and if so, revoke Bassam’s letters testamentary and remove him from the position as executor of the Hage Estate.

Apparently, as a result of follow-up on the matter to ensure that the judge acted as directed, especially that the matter should be prioritized, that the Supreme Court discovered that the judge failed to act as directed, thus compelling the court to ask Judge Holder to recuse himself from the case, and has accordingly asked the Chief Judge of the Commercial Court, Her Honor Eva Mappy-Morgan, to preside and carry out the Supreme Court’s mandate.

The High Court is of the view that then Presiding Judge Holder of the Probate Court during the case was responsible for the hitches of the case before the court for a protracted period of time without conclusion and also its failure to perfect the Supreme Court’s mandate of taking charge of the operation of the account of the Hage Estate as was directed since January 24, 2014.

Furthermore, the Court en banc (Full Bench; all Justices of the court) have come to realize why Judge Holder can no longer preside over the matter to project and portray the ‘cool neutrality’ that is expected of a presiding judge in such cases. Informant Hage filed a bill of information to the High Court against Judge Holder and Bassam for which the court took its decision.

The Supreme Court has now instructed the Probate Court, now with Judge Mappy- Morgan that all monies collected from the Hage Estate be deposited in the Estate’s account and the operation of said account be carried out with the approval of the Monthly and Probate Court for Montserrado County in keeping with the Supreme Court’s mandate.

Earlier, based on the lower court’s decision, petitioner Hage ran to the Supreme Court seeking a Writ for a Prohibition, an appeal which was filed before Associate Justice Sie-A-NyeneYuoh. She heard and determined the matter. As the full bench sat to hear the matter based on an appeal from appellant Bassam and Judge Holder, before the Supreme Court, Associate Justice KabinehJa’neh recused himself from the hearing and determination of the case.

Other members of the bench at the time adjudged that there were indeed several irregularities, errors, negligence and glaring misconduct committed by the trial court in its interpretation of the Decedents Estate Law.

Today, I am happy that an opportunity has been given me to engage the reporters assigned at the Judiciary. Although the forum was scheduled for today and tomorrow, it has now been postponed to another date owing to the death of former Chief Justice Johnnie N. Lewis. Notwithstanding, I see this as a glorious opportunity to engage the reporters on the particular case because it has taken too long and also to encourage them to follow up on all that were observed or discovered by the Supreme Court, to ensure that they are adhered to or implemented.

Frankly, some of the issues I hope to ask the reporters are whether or not they have followed up on the status of the properties and the status of the case before her Honor Judge, Eva Mappy-Morgan. I would go further to ask on the issue of the detailed inventories and accounts of the properties, as BassamJawhary was asked to do, and lastly as to whether or not BassamJahwahary is cooperating with the lower court in these matters and what the latest action or action of the court hearing the matter is.

In the first article on this matter, I tried to engender interest in legal matters. In that article entitled:Engendering Interest In Legal Matters: The Case Involving The HageEstate,”I said that 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.

Yes 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 for some reasons. They could be human rights groups, civil society or even the bank –Ecobank- that provided the loan, which the deceased used to build many business structures in the Redlight area.

Indeed, as members of the fourth estate, we have a responsibility to follow up this case to its logical conclusion, as “justice delayed is justice denied.” Once more, let me thank the Supreme Court for its follow-up mechanism. It now behooves the media to do likewise.

I Rest My Case.