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Court rejects removal of defense lawyers

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The Criminal Court “C” in Monrovia has rejected prosecutors’ request to remove from the defense team, two public defense lawyers-Attys. Richard Scott and Lucretia Thomas Anderson.

Both lawyers represent the interests of defendants Joseph Dennis and Richard Walkerin the LRD$16bn case.

The government’s request to eject the two lawyers was denied following debate Wednesday, 22 May at the Temple of Justice before co-defendant Milton A. Weeks’ third surety Rhonda vonBallmos could defend the property bond filed for Weeks’ release.

Five officials from the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) and Internal Audit Department indicted for their alleged roles in Liberia’s LRD$16bn scandal are standing trial or an excess amount of LRD$2,645, 000,000, which investigators say the accused had no authority to print and infuse into the economy.

The defendants include former CBL Executive Governor Milton Weeks; former President Ellen Johnson – Sirleaf’s son and Deputy CBL Governor Charles E. Sirleaf; CBL Director for Banking Dorbor Hagba; CBL Director for Operations Richard H. Walker and Joseph Dennis, Deputy Director for Internal Audit.

In the Liberian judicial system, the Public Defender’s program is setup to provide representation for all indigent persons (folks lacking finance) that are charged with crimes.

Through this program, Public Defenders under supervision by the Coordinator of the Judiciary Public Defense Program are tasked to provide effective representation to clients who are frequently illiterate, uneducated, and financially unable to hire lawyers or pay legal fees, among others.

If the court is satisfied after appropriate inquiry that the accused is financially unable to retain legal counsel, the Criminal Procedure Law mandates that the court assigns the county Defense Counsel to represent the accused.

The Criminal Procedure Law Section 2.2 (1) partly provides mandates that the accused in all criminal prosecutions enjoys the right to legal representation at every stage of the proceedings.

Voicing the State’s opposition against Attys. Scott and Anderson’s service on the defense’s legal team, Montserrado County Attorney Cllr. Edwin K. Martin says there is no indication that the defendants requested the Court for public defense lawyers because they are unable to hire a lawyer.

In defense’s resistance, Cllr. Abrahim Sillah informs the Court that the statute that prosecutors are relying on does not take precedence over the Constitution [which under Article 21, mandates the Republic to make available legal aid services to ensure the protection of the rights of an accused where the accused is unable to hire such representation].

From the day the defendants were arrested and taken to the police station, Cllr. Sillah argues that Attys Scott and Anderson were there until other lawyers came in later, suggesting that to remove the two counsels would amount to denying defendant Walker and Dennis adequate legal representation.Judge Peter Gbeneweleh denied prosecution’s request, saying it is not supported by law.

In a related development, co-defendant Milton Weeks’ third surety, Madam Rhonda vonBallmos has defended bond proffered to secure the indictee’s release from pretrial detention at the Monrovia Central Prison.

Giving testimony, Madam vonBallmos says the property she has submitted as surety is owned by she and her husband Mr. Dewitt vonBallmos, and is located in Congo Town, Monrovia Liberia.

She testifies that they pay taxes for the property to the Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA), and further identifies the deed to the property, a receipt from the LRA for tax payment for the property and the authentication from the LRA that the family owns the property in question.

From the legal calculation provided by law to justify and provide sufficiency of bond value, the County Attorney Cllr. Martin says it [the bond value] seems to have been in the tune of USD$1,673,735.44 plus LRD$5,290,000,000.By Winston W. Parley -Edited by Othello B. Garblah

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