Dillon faces legal setback
By Lincoln G. Peters
The opposition senator for Montserrado County Mr. Darius Dillon has suffered a legal setback in a civil case filed against him by his fellow opposition leader, Mr. Musa Hassan Bility, embattled chairman of the opposition Liberty Party (LP).
Lawyers representing Mr. Dillon had filed a motion before presiding Civil Law Court Judge Kennedy Peabody seeking to dismiss Mr. Bility’s lawsuit, but the judge denied Dillon’s motion.
The civil case is filed against Mr. Dillon for damages for wrong. Dillon is an executive of the Liberty Party, a faction of which Senator Nyonblee Karnga – Lawrence chairs. Bility and his LP loyalists said they had expelled Dillon and the party’s political leader, Grand Bassa County Senator Nyonblee Karnga – Lawrence following a prolonged internal fight.
Judge Peabody denied Dillon’s motion despite a contention by the accused’s lawyers that Article 42 of the 1986 Constitution of Liberia provides in part that members of the Legislature shall be privileged from arrest while attending, going to or returning from session of the Legislature, except for treason, felony or breach of the peace.
They also argued that Section 31 of the Legislative Law also provides that “No Judge or magistrates and Justice of the peace or officer who administers the law shall issue or cause to be issued any writ of attachment or other legal precepts against any member of the legislature.
The provision also protects from arrest, members of a lawmaker’s family living in the lawmaker’s household, or their servant and clerical staff during the session of the Legislature or for thirty days before or thirty days after such session, except for treason, felony or breach of the peace.
According to the legal team representing Sen. Dillon, the caption of the case acknowledged that the accused is a sitting Senator who enjoys all of the privileges as enshrined in the 1986 Constitution.
They indicated that the action of Mr. Bility undermines Sen. Dillon’s movement to and from the legislative session of the fifth session, and made him appear like a common criminal to injury, harassment, inconvenience, mental anguish, public disgrace, humiliation, pain and suffering.
According to Judge Peabody, on February 25, Musa Bility filed his resistance to Dillon’s motion and contended that Article 32 (a) of the Constitution only provides for regular assembly once a year on the second Monday in January.
Judge Peabody continued that Bility stated that the law does not in any way immune a sitting Legislator from arrest and detention for the personal wrongful conduct or criminal action done by a member of the Legislature.
Further, Judge Peabody said Bility had argued that where a sitting Senator deliberately, intentionally, recklessly and wrongfully inflicts injuries on another citizen outside of his Legislative function and duty, he is not protected from being sued for the purpose of recovering damages.
Stating Bility’s argument further, the Judge said the framers of the Constitution did not intend to immune a sitting legislator who personally engages in wrongful acts against a citizen from being held accountable through judicial determination.
He said Article 42 of the Constitution provides immunity from arrest, detention and prosecution for opinions expressed, or votes cast in the exercise of the function of legislative duties and functions which are privileged.
He said the act of a Senator who deliberately and intentionally defames a private citizen on TV and social media is not a legislative function and duties, therefore, it is not immune.
He said the senator is subject to judicial scrutiny for an act injuring another citizen.
In his ruling, Judge Peabody said no imperative of office requires that a member of the Legislature, while acting outside the scope of his legislative duties, be freed to reach out with impunity when the rights of other citizens are involved.
“This privilege does not immune a Legislator from suits and arrests for acts personally done away from legislative functions and duties,” Judge Peabody ruled.