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In Justice Nagbe Saga: Did Teahjay Lie To Senate?

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By: Frank P. Martin

MONROVIA: The exchanges of Communications between the Executive and Judicial Branches of government show that Cllr. Joseph Nagbe, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of Liberia, informed President George Manneh Weah of his (Nagbe) inability to discharge his duty and function as Associate Justice of the Honorable Supreme Court, due to what he (Justice Nagbe) considered as “ill-health.”

Justice Nagbe, in his communication addressed to President Weah, copy of which is in the possession of The INDEPENDENT Newspaper, informed the Liberian leader that he has been out of the bailiwick of Liberia for a period of eight (8) months, seeking medical attention for his “ill-health.”

Justice Nagbe, according to the communication, further explained to President Weah that it has now become evidence that the healing process to his recovery will take a longer period than expected.

“Therefore,” the communication added, it cannot allow his physical presence in the Chambers of the Honorable Supreme Court of Liberia in the soonest.

“Hence, my request for an early retirement,” the communication to President Weah further indicated.

In apparent affirmation of Justice Nagbe’s request for an early retirement, as he indicated to President Weah, on December 27, 2023, Chief Justice Sie-A-Nyene G. Yuoh, also notified President Weah that she has received a formal communication from Justice Nagbe, who requested for an early retirement, citing several provisions of the 1986 Constitution, which give Justices of the Supreme Court the rights to request early retirement before age 70.

Chief Justice Yuoh: “I present my compliments and herewith inform you that I am in receipt of a letter, dated, December 21, 2023, under the signature of His Honor, Joseph N. Nagbe, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of Liberia, in which he has requested for an early retirement from the Supreme Court.

According to the Chief Justice’s communication to the President, Justice Nagbe explained that the reason for his request is based on the fact that he has remained out of the bailiwick of the Republic of Liberia for an extended period of time, that is, eight (8) months, seeking medical attention for ill-health, that it is evident that his recovery process will continue for a long period of time, thus inhibiting his work on the Court.”

In the Chief Justice’s communication to President Weah, she further averred that Justice Nagbe’s long absence from the Court hindered the Court in the disposition of many cases, due to the lack of quorum when Justices mandatorily had to rescue themselves from the hearing and determination of cases in which they participated while serving as circuit judges, Justices in Chambers or legal counsel prior to their ascendancy to the Supreme Court Bench.

Justice Yuoh, in her letter, a copy of which is in possession of this paper, indicated that Justice Nagbe’s request for retirement for reason of ill health is within the pale of the law, which grants an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court the right to honorably retire to private life, saying “This finds precedent in the case of the Late Chief Justice, Johnnie N. Lewis, who for reason of poor health, was retired before the age of seventy (70).”

According to her, the retirement of Justice Nagbe automatically creates a vacancy on the Supreme Court Bench, and Judicial Canon Two provides that in the event of any seat of honor on the Supreme Court becoming vacant, same shall remain vacant until the vacancy is filled by appointment and such appointee is commissioned and ceremoniously seated.

The Chief Justice added: “Moreover, Article 68 of the Constitution (1986) provides that ‘the Chief Justice and Associate Justices of the Supreme Court shall, with the consent of the Senate, be appointed and commissioned by the President…”

“In view of the above, and in order to maintain the constitution of the full membership of the Bench in accordance with the Constitution, I advise that the request of Justice Nagbe be granted and Article 68 of the Constitution be invoked,” the Chief Justice further advised President Weah.

Replying separately to Chief Justice Sie-A-Nyene G. Yuoh, incumbent President George Manneh Weah confirmed: “I received a letter, dated December 21, 2023, informing me about his ill-heath and therefore requesting an early retirement from the Supreme Court Bench of the Republic of Liberia.

In President Weah’s response also to Justice Nagbe, the President indicated: “In consideration of the above, I am pleased to approve your request and thank you for your invaluable services provided to our nation while on the Supreme Court Bench.”

Following the consideration of Justice Nagbe’s request, as reflected in his separate communications to both Nagbe and the Chief Justice, President George Weah nominated Justice Minister, Cllr. Frank Musah Dean, to the post of Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of Liberia, replacing Justice Nagbe.

Interestingly, however, incumbent Sinoe County Senator, J. Milton Teahjay, said the nomination of Cllr. Frank Musah Dean as Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of Liberia undermines the 1986 Constitution and other Judicial provisions of the Republic, therefore he (Teahjay) finds it unthinkable for his (Cllr. Dean) confirmation.

Senator Teahjay has officially communicated his position to the President Pro-Tempore of the Senate, Albert Tugbe Chie on the issue.

In his communication, dated December 29, 2023, Senator Teahjay told the Senate and its leadership to put a hold on the confirmation of the Associate Justice Designate, Cllr. Frank Musah Dean.

The Sinoe County Senator claimed that Justice Nagbe has not resigned or voluntarily exited his position in keeping with the Constitution, Title 17, New Judiciary law and other applicable laws of Liberia, “thus there is no vacancy on the bench of the Honorable Supreme Court of Liberia.”

He further noted that confirming Associate Justice Designate, Frank Musah Dean, without ensuring that Associate Justice Nagbe legally vacates the position as Associate Justice will result to six (6) Justices on the Bench of the Supreme Court and such act will be in gross violation of Article 67 of the 1986 Constitution of the Republic of Liberia.

Senator Teahjay: “The Associate Justice Nagbe’s request for early retirement is not supported by Law and should be not be honored by the Honorable Liberian Senate considering that the request does not meet the minimal requirements for approval as contained in Chapter 13 section 13.3 and 13.4 of Title 17, New Judiciary Law, Liberian Code of Law Revised, Chapter 13.3 Captioned, Substitution upon Temporary disability of a Judge of the above citation provides that “In the case of the absence, illness or other temporary disability of a judge of any subordinate Court of record, including disqualification from hearing a cause by reason of interest or prejudice, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court shall appoint an available judge of another subordinate court to preside and hold a special or general session of the court until such disability of the Judge is removed. Also, Article 67 of the Constitution of Liberia provides that “The Supreme Court shall comprise One Chief Justice and Four Associate Justices, a majority of whom shall be deemed competent to transact the business of the court. If a quorum is not obtained to enable the Court to hear any case, a circuit Judge in the order of the seniority shall sit as an ad-hoc justice of the Supreme Court. Chapter 13.4 count 3 caption, Retirement Pension provides in pertinent to part that “Any Justice, Judge or stipendiary Magistrate who has served continuously for fifteen years or more in such judicial capacity and who has attained the age 60, or who has served continuously for 10 years or more in any such capacity and has been certified, after appropriate physical and mental examination by competent medical authorities, that he has become permanently disabled from performing his duties may retire from active service with a right to receive retirement pension as set forth in this section.”

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