Representing the Liberian Senate’s legal interest at the Supreme Court, Grand Cape Mount County Senator Cllr. H. Varney G. Sherman says whatever they do at the Senate, “nobody must question” them because they are covered by legislative privilege and immunity.
“They concede there is something called legislative privilege, so whatever we do over there, nobody must question us,” Sen. Sherman argued Tuesday, 27 November before the Supreme Court against a petition filed by four senators, who challenge the majority’s decision and want the Court to declare it as unconstitutional.
The Senate is before the Court because four of its members are opposed to majority’s decision to amend the body’s standing rule, specifically Rule 63 to pave the way to impeach Associate Justice Kabineh M. Ja’neh.
Justice Ja’neh faces charges of proved misconduct and abuse of judicial description, and the House has passed and submitted to the Senate an impeachment bill against him.
But Senators Comany B. Wesseh, Daniel Naathen, Milton Teahjay and Oscar Cooper are challenging the action of 19 other Senators at the Supreme Court following, asking the Court to declare the action of the majority colleagues as unconstitutional.
The minority Senators say the 19 senators acted contrary to the clear mandate of Article 43 of Liberia’s Constitution which says the Legislature shall prescribe the procedure for impeachment.
But in their counterargument, the majority Senators, through their lawyer Sen. Sherman, say there is no violation of Article 43.
He says their colleagues in the minority gave the impression that the mandate that “the Legislature shall prescribe” procedure implies that both the House of Representatives and the Senate shall sit in one room and vote on the mater.
“No your honor, every Legislation begins in committee room,” he argues, emphasizing further that with the exception of revenue generation which must begin at the House for Senate’s concurrence, everything else can start from any of the two houses.
Sen. Sherman insists that Article 43 never intended that the 73 representatives and the 30 senators will sit in one room to decide how the senate will conduct an impeachment trial.
He further contends that the four Senators would be acting as plaintiff and at the same time as respondents in the case because they were part of the decision of the Senate, regardless of the fact that they had dissent against the majority’s decision.
He warns that if the Justices allow this to happen, they will make the Supreme Court to become like a magisterial court where the senators would run for for every decision that they are not pleased with.
Earlier presenting the argument of the majority Senators, Cllr. Tiawan Gongloe informed the Justices that the Senate amended Rule 63 of its standing rule at a time that the House of Representatives had impeached Associate Justice Ja’neh and the matter was coming to the Senate.
Cllr. Gongloe argues that when Article 43 says the Legislature shall prescribe procedure for impeachment, it means both houses of the Legislature because Article 29 defines the Legislature to have two houses which include the House of Representatives and the Senate.
According to him, if one house prescribes rules for the concurrence of the other, as it was done by the Senate, it means that it was not done in line with Article 43 of the Constitution.
And in a related development, the Supreme Court, based on request by Justice Ja’neh’s lawyers, has relieved Cllr. Cyril Jones from serving as amicus curiae or friend of the court in the case on grounds that he had earlier extensive discussions on the merit of the case and his presence could spark conflict of interest.
Amicus curiae, is Latin for the “Friend of the Court,” which refers to lawyer who is not a party, but is appointed by the Court to assist the court by offering information, expertise or insight on issue that has bearing in the case.
According to Justice Ja’neh’s lawyer Cllr. Gongloe, Cllr. Jones had extensive discussion with him and Senator Oscar Cooper about the merit of the petition, thus informing the Court that it is not proper for Cllr. Jones to be in a position where he his views could be adverse to the position of the petitioner in these proceedings.
Cllr. Jones concedes that he had conversation with Cllr. Gongloe and Sen. Cooper, but he leaves it to the court to pass on it because the Court has ruled that a request to serve as amicus curiae is mandatory, not discretional.
Chief Justice Francis S. Korkpor, Sr., says under the circumstance and in all fairness, it is proper for Cllr. Jones not to participate in this case since by the discussion with the named persons he has expressed his opinion regarding the case.He therefore relieved Cllr. Jones from serving as amicus curiae, friend of the court in the instant case.
By Winston W. Parley