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UL crisis demands witnesses

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The Civil Law Court “B” at the Temple of Justice in Monrovia has told the counsels representing both the Administration of the University of Liberia and complainant Alvin Wesseh that “there shall be production of witnesses” in the case filed against the state university.

Presiding Civil Law Court “B” Judge Johannes Z. Zlahn admonished the counsels on Friday, 12 February at the Temple of Justice, after entertaining and determining series of submissions made by both sides in the case, before concluding that there shall be production of witnesses.

After series of protests that marred the disruption of normal academic activities at the beginning of the ongoing 2015/2016 First Semester at the state-run university, the UL administration expelled leading student advocate Alvin Wesseh which prompted the court action that began in 2015.

Disagreement erupted between the protesting students and the administration over a planned increase per credit hour and transport fare. However, the legal team representing the UL Administration over the weekend requested the court for a continuance of one week because the institution has final decision-makers “and the quorum for those people to come out with a final decision to be written to the court are out of the … country.”

The UL legal team claimed that decision as to accept the alleged “request or appeal” of student Wesseh’s counsel for the forgiveness of his client was not reached due to the absence of those decision-makers.

The counsels therefore argued that considering all other factors, their request for continuance [was intended] for a final decision to be reached because teacher or institution and student-related matters most often are handled administratively, while contending that litigation prolongs issues.

But student Wesseh’s counsel sharply rejected the UL’s claim, saying at no time did the petitioner or legal counsel apologized to the institution or prayed for pardon. “Counsel says that it is the wisdom of all legal practitioners as well as the courts to entertain a conference or pre-trial conference for the court to ascertain whether or not the issue before the court could be resolved by the parties after litigation and this does not mean that it is evidence of weakness,” student Wesseh’s lawyers argued.

The petitioners contended that UL’s request for continuance was ambiguous and indefinite, specifically the assertion of the respondent’s counsel that there has been no quorum at the level of UL and that some decision-makers of UL were outside of Liberia.

“… This suggests that the Respondent intends to employ a dilatory procedural tactics to baffle this case and deny the Petitioner the ends of justice. This is evident by the failure of the Respondent to appear on the 5th of February 2016 before this honorable court which is contemptuous should be sanctioned,” the petitioners said.

Regarding the issue of student – teacher being regarded as a matter that can be resolved, plaintiff Wessh’s lawyers said they partly agree, but counter-argued that when a school administrator arbitrarily violates the constitutional rights of a student, the laws here provide for remedy – something for which both parties are before the court. “… Counsel for Petitioner says to discipline a student must be consistent with the due process of law and therefore an attempt to make such a statement goes to the merit of the case,” they concluded.

At the end of the argument between the both parties, Judge Zlahn granted UL’s request for continuance and assigned the case for Tuesday, 16 February at 2pm. But Judge Zlahn warned that the UL’s argument that some of its decision-makers were out of the country was not legal ground for the suspension [of the case], saying just like the UL, the court has a job to do and the grievances of a citizen of this nation must be addressed in a timely manner and not at the pleasure of an individual or entity.

By Winston W. Parley-Edited by Othello B. Garblah

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