Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Chief Justice Johnnie Lewis

Written by Rufus S. Berry II

A Clear and Present Danger to Liberia’s Justice and Fairness

Haven’t the citizens of the Republic of Liberia endured enough abuse of power by members of the three branches of government? Countless years in Liberian history, dating back from Charles Taylor have shown how the abuse of power has been detrimental to Liberian citizens’ wellbeing.

Chief Justice Johnny Lewis
Chief Justice Johnny Lewis is following in the footsteps of those before him —assuming powers that are not his and overstepping legal boundaries with abandon.


In a true democracy, there is freedom of the press. Liberia is a democracy. Therefore, its journalists have the constitutional right to voice criticism of the government and its ministers. However, the current case involving the Supreme Court and Rodney Sieh, Editor-In-Chief and Publisher of FrontPageAfrica newspaper flies in the face of democratic freedom of press. Editor-In-Chief Sieh, published an article critical of a member of the Lewis’ court and currently being held in contempt of court. Though there are no legal grounds to site Mr. Sieh for contempt of court. Justice Lewis used his position to exercise revenge against Mr. Sieh. This is blatant, audacious and unscrupulous abuse of Justice Lewis’ power, as a member of Liberia’s Supreme Court.

The Liberian Supreme Court has often misused contempt of court as far back as the Johnson, Grimes, Wilson Pierre and Gbalazeh courts. Legally, every Liberian citizen has the constitutional right to criticize the court. Punishment cannot legally be meted out to a citizen that speaks out against the court or its members in a media outlet.

The only time an individual may be found in contempt of court is if there is a case in the court, and the individual goes before the Supreme Court and speaks ill of the court (while in court, during the court case). Then the court has the right to hold that individual in contempt of court. In this instance, the individual, who was called before the Supreme Court willfully and publicly refused to cooperate with the court. This lack of cooperation, in court, qualifies as contempt of court. However, when an editor, journalist or writer publishes an article critical of the court, this is not contempt of court. The people and journalists in every civilized democratic society have the right to express their views on the decisions rendered by the court.

Minister of Justice, Christiana Tah said, “When justice is done, the people rejoice”. In this case, Justice has not been done. Justice has been forfeited in a self-seeking power grab, and the abuse of a government office. Chief Justice Johnny Lewis is putting the very credibility of his office at risk.

The idea of Editor-in-Chief Sieh (the Albert Porte of our generation) being handcuffed and taken into custody would be deplorable and immoral. Sieh’s arrest would likely incite unprecedented public outcry and demonstrations. I would not be surprised if hundreds of ordinary Liberians march to the Temple of Justice to demand Sieh’s immediate release.

If Editor-in-Chief Sieh is arrested, it would not be the first time Justice Lewis has abused his position. I personally had a baffling encounter with Chief Justice Lewis during one of my annual visits to Liberia. During my visit, I observed the newly renovated Capitol Building and Temple of Justice. I decided to take a few pictures of both buildings in order to write a story about the amazing transformation. I didn’t take a picture of the Executive Mansion because there were signs indicating that pictures are prohibited. But I took several pictures of the Capitol Building. Afterwards, I walked to the Temple of Justice to take pictures. As Chief Justice Lewis’ motorcade passed me, it stopped. Chief Justice Lewis got out his car, and seized my camera. I protested. I had every right to take pictures of the building. There were no signs stating that pictures weren’t allowed. I asked him how I would have known that taking pictures was prohibited. He responded, “This is my damn house and I make the damn rules!” I replied, “This is the Liberian people’s house and your actions are clearly an abuse of power.” He ignored me and walked away with my seized camera.

I got on my phone to call a press conference, alerting the media of the shocking chain of events. It just so happened that my friend Gabriel Williams (then Liberia’s Deputy Minister for Information) was on his way to work. As he drove by, he saw me standing on the street, talking on my phone, and decided to stop. I explained what had just happened. He too was shocked and decided to call the then Minister of Information, Larry Bropleh. We went to the Minister of Information’s office and he placed a call to Chief Justice Lewis. The Minister of Information pleaded with Justice Lewis to return my camera. Deputy Minister Williams and I went to Justice Lewis’ office to negotiate with him. In that conversation, he paid regards to my late father Rufus S. Berry Sr. and then decided to return my camera. Had it not been for the entrée I gained from Minister of Information Williams, I would not have received my camera back.

Long term peace and stability cannot be sustained when abuse of power goes unchecked. Chief Justice Lewis cannot be fired but he must be held accountable by Liberia’s Senate. Chief Justice Lewis is reckless. His behavior negatively impacts the peace and stability of our republic. If our nation is to move forward, and root out abuse of power the Supreme Court or the Senate must do a better job of monitoring, reprimanding, and disciplining its wayward members.



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About the author: Rufus S. Berry II, (former President of the Liberian Community Association of Northern California - LCANC) a resident of the San Francisco Bay Area (Northern California), and the author of many articles including: “Liberia's Long History of Corruption, Facilitated by Citizens that Turn a Blind Eye on the Government”, “Five Liberian Ministers’ Visit to Diaspora: Explanation or Personal Boondoggle”, " We Demand Justice for Assaulted Police Officer Lexington Beh, and Ban Smoking in Public Venues Now.

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Everyone is a genius

Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid. – A Einstein

Drawing the line in Liberia

Crimes sponsored, committed, or masterminded by handful of individuals cannot be blamed upon an entire nationality. In this case, Liberians! The need for post-war justice is a step toward lasting peace, stability and prosperity for Liberia. Liberia needs a war crimes tribunal or some credible legal forum that is capable of dealing with atrocities perpetrated against defenseless men, women and children during the country's brutal war. Without justice, peace shall remain elusive and investment in Liberia will not produce the intended results. - Bernard Gbayee Goah



Men with unhealthy characters should not champion any noble cause

They pretend to advocate the cause of the people when their deeds in the dark mirror nothing else but EVIL!!
When evil and corrupt men try to champion a cause that is so noble … such cause, how noble it may be, becomes meaningless in the eyes of the people - Bernard Gbayee Goah.

If Liberia must move forward ...

If Liberia must move forward in order to claim its place as a civilized nation amongst world community of nations, come 2017 elections, Liberians must critically review the events of the past with honesty and objectivity. They must make a new commitment to seek lasting solutions. The track records of those who are presenting themselves as candidates for the position of "President of the Republic of Liberia" must be well examined. Liberians must be fair to themselves because results from the 2011 elections will determine the future of Liberia’s unborn generations to come - Bernard Gbayee Goah

Liberia's greatest problem!

While it is true that an individual may be held responsible for corruption and mismanagement of funds in government, the lack of proper system to work with may as well impede the process of ethical, managerial, and financial accountability - Bernard Gbayee Goah

What do I think should be done?

The situation in Liberia is Compound Complex and cannot be fixed unless the entire system of government is reinvented.
Liberia needs a workable but uncompromising system that will make the country an asylum free from abuse, and other forms of corruption.
Any attempt to institute the system mentioned above in the absence of rule of law is meaningless, and more detrimental to Liberia as a whole - Bernard Gbayee Goah

Liberia's Natural Resources
Besides land water and few other resources, most of Liberia’s dependable natural resources are not infinite, they are finite and therefore can be depleted.
Liberia’s gold, diamond, and other natural resources will not always be an available source of revenue generation for its people and its government. The need to invent a system in government that focuses on an alternative income generation method cannot be over emphasized at this point - Bernard Gbayee Goah

Liberia needs a proper system
If Liberians refuse to erect a proper system in place that promotes the minimization of corruption and mismanagement of public funds by government institutions, and individuals, there will come a time when the value of the entire country will be seen as a large valueless land suited on the west coast of Africa with some polluted bodies of waters and nothing else. To have no system in place in any country is to have no respect for rule of law. To have no respect for rule of law is to believe in lawlessness. And where there is lawlessness, there is always corruption - Bernard Gbayee Goah

Solving problems in the absence of war talks

As political instability continues to increase in Africa, it has become abundantly clear that military intervention as a primary remedy to peace is not a durable solution. Such intervention only increases insecurity and massive economic hardship. An existing example which could be a valuable lesson for Liberia is Great Britain, and the US war on terror for the purpose of global security. The use of arms whether in peace keeping, occupation, or invasion as a primary means of solving problem has yield only little results. Military intervention by any country as the only solution to problem solving will result into massive military spending, economic hardship, more fear, and animosity as well as increase insecurity. The alternative is learning how to solve problems in the absence of war talks. The objective of such alternative must be to provide real sustainable human security which cannot be achieved through military arm intervention, or aggression. In order to achieve results that will make the peaceful coexistence of all mankind possible, there must be a common ground for the stories of all sides to be heard. I believe there are always three sides to every story: Their side of the story, Our side of the story, and The truthBernard Gbayee Goah

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