By Antoinette Sendolo
A petition filed by the Government of Liberia before the State Bar of Georgia against Mr. Melvin Johnson has resulted in the suspension of Mr. Johnson’s license to practice law.
Mr. Johnson was the companion and romantic partner of Ms. Ellen Corkrum, Managing Director of the Liberia Airport Authority between September 2012 and January 2013.
Both Corkrum and Johnson were indicted by a Special Grand Jury in Montserrado County, in July 2013, on a three-count allegation, among other things, that they violated the public trust by wrongfully diverting public money and other properties to themselves and their friends.
According to a special statement read by the solicitor General at the Ministry of Information, the Government has presented an extradition request to the United States Embassy in Monrovia for both individuals and the request remains pending before the U.S. Department of Justice.
She said in May of 2014, the Government counsel also submitted a grievance to the Georgia Bar, contending that Mr. Melvin Johnson had violated several of the Rules of Professional Conduct that are binding on lawyers who practice in that State. Specifically, the Government complained that Johnson violated prohibitions against dishonest, fraudulent and deceitful conducts, as well as misrepresentation, and that he made untrue statements to persons other than his clients.
She added that the Government charged that Johnson conspired with Corkrum to divert some US$60,000.00 of the Liberian people’s money to the trust account of his law firm in Georgia, that while in the country he misrepresented his status as a Liberian lawyer (he has never been a member of the Liberian Bar), and that he violated privacy laws by taping conversations with Government officials without their knowledge or consent. Documentation was submitted backing up each of these charges.
The solicitor General noted that the Government’s grievance required a substantive response from the accused but Mr. Johnson has never provided that response. As a result, the grievance was referred for a formal investigation. Again, Mr. Johnson failed to respond meaningfully, specifically and substantially to the Government’s accusations, leading to the suspension of his license to practice law in the State of Georgia.
In issuing the suspension of his license to practice law in Georgia, the State Supreme Court noted that the maximum sanction for the violations with which Johnson is charged is permanent disbarment.
The Court has therefore directed that this suspension remains in effect until further order of the Court.
Johnson, who lost his position as a Municipal Court Judge in Lithonia, Georgia, in early 2014 for training deficiencies, is now barred from private practice as well.
She said the Liberian Government will continue to pursue this matter and all other abuses of the public trust in furtherance of the desire of Liberians to live in a society that is transparent and accountable.