Following a court conference prompted by Movement for Progressive Change (MPC’s) request to prohibit Lofa County Senator – elect Brownie Samukai’s certification, Liberia’s Solicitor General Cllr. Saymah Syrenius Cephus says he will complain Samukai’s lawyer Cllr. Michael Wilkins Wright to the Judiciary’s Grievance and Ethics Committee for allegedly representing conflicting interest.
“That’s the most egregious abuse or ethical transgression I have ever seen. He appeared for National Elections Commission in a matter where his client’s fate is being decided. For us, we take serious exception to that,” Cllr. Cephus told an interview Tuesday, 9 March at the Temple of Justice.
The crux of Cllr. Cephus’ contention is that Cllr. Wright represented Brownie Samukai in a criminal case, and therefore he cannot represent the NEC in an election case in which the commission has been sued and Cllr. Wright’s client Samukai, is supposed to appear as a respondent, or an averse party to the NEC.
Chambers Justice Joseph Nagbe held a conference with the National Elections Commission (NEC), Samukai and businessman – turned politician Simeon Freeman’s MPC to a conference on Tuesday, following the MPC’s petition for a writ of prohibition filed against the NEC’s planned certification of Mr. Samukai.
Journalists were not given access to the conference held in the chambers of Associate Justice Joseph Nagbe on Tuesday, but some lawyers and other political parties’ representatives who were present indicated outside the court that Justice Nagbe had decided that he was convinced to issue the writ of prohibition to stay all further proceedings.
Following the conference, Cllr. Cephus told journalists that he wanted the list of lawyers that made representations on behalf of the various parties in the case, and Cllr. Wright’s name appeared for NEC.
“He represented Brownie Samukai from the beginning of the case in Criminal Court “C” up to the Supreme Court,” Cephas narrates, making reference to the criminal case in which Samukai and his two deputies were convicted.
“I said after the conference, I entered to make sure that he was on the list, and I did not stop there, I made sure to see the names of representatives,” he explains.
According to him, the whole argument about whether or not Samukai should be certificated, is bordered on the conduct of the election conducted by the National Elections Commission.
Cllr. Cephus argues that if the NEC is sued on the basis of an election it has conducted in which Cllr. Wright’s client is a convict and is supposed to appear as a respondent, “then it means Cllr. M. Wilkins Wright is not qualified to make representation for and on behalf of the Elections Commission because he is conflicted.”
“The Republic of Liberia will write the [Grievance and] Ethics Committee of the Liberian Judiciary to complain Cllr. Wright for ethical transgression,” he adds.
When quizzed whether Cllr. Wright is working with the NEC as in – house lawyer or a contracted lawyer, Cllr. Cephus responds that the accused should be the one to tell “at what time he is Brownie Samukai’s lawyer, and at what time he is NEC’s lawyer.”
“The question will be best for him … no, no, the burden will not shift to me, it will shit to him,” Cllr. Cephus says, adding that “the action is against NEC, growing out of a conduct of a process conducted against Brownie Samukai.”
Up to press time, this paper did not receive a response from Cllr. Wrights following several phone calls and a text message seeking his response to Cllr. Cephus’ allegation.
Last week Justice in chambers Joseph Nagbe, through the Clerk of the Supreme Court, wrote NEC Chairperson, Madam Davidetta Brown – Lansanah, to stay all further actions in relation to the election matters concerning Lofa County Senator – elect Brownie Samukai.
“Meanwhile, you are hereby ordered to stay all further proceedings and / or actions in the matter, pending the outcome of the conference,” the communication dated 5 March reads.
“By directive of His Honor Joseph N. Nagbe, Associate Justice presiding in Chambers, you are hereby cited to a conference with His Honor on Tuesday, March 9, 2021, at the hour of 2:00 p.m. in connection with the above case.”
Despite pressure mounted by the Ministry of Justice to thwart Samukai’s certification, the National Elections Commissions had, in honor of the Supreme Court’s mandate, scheduled to certificate the former Defense Minister early March before the MPC petitioned the court for a prohibition against the certification.
The Justice Ministry wants to deny Samukai of being certificated to sit in the Senate on the basis of his conviction in a criminal case in which he and his two deputies were found guilty of spending soldiers’ personal pension savings without their consent. After being elected as Senator in Lofa, the Supreme Court later upheld a lower court’s decision convicting Samukai and the two other former officials.
But the court gave the convicts a suspended sentence, with the options to make restitution within a year, or face jail term for two years each if they failed. The time for restitution has not elapsed.
The Supreme Court had decided that Ahmed and James, and Kesselly and Peter who filed a complaint of elections irregularities in Lofa County, had not standing to challenge the results as they were not political parties and candidates.
That complaint originally delayed Samukai’s certification. Based on the Supreme Court’s decision in the election irregularities case, the NEC’s Board of Commissioners ordered its Certification Committee to officially arrange and workout all modalities to certificate Samukai. The planned certification got halted again by MPC’s sudden petition before the Supreme Court for a writ of prohibition. By Winston W. Parley