Who Becomes Next Chief Justice?

At the formal opening of March Term of the Supreme Court of Liberia on March 14, 2022, Chief Justice Francis S. Korkpor disclosed that he will be leaving the Temple of Justice after almost two decades.

“This is my last opening address as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Liberia,” he revealed.

Given such revelation, a number of names have already started surfacing as possible replacement for the departing Chief Justice of Liberia.

Initially on the list of likely Chief Justice is Associate Justice Joseph Nagbe. He ascended to the Supreme Court after the retirement of Associate Justice Philip AZ Banks, who also served twice as Minister of Justice.

Justice Nagbe was nominated from the Liberian Senate while serving his second term as Senator of Sinoe County.

Justice Nagbe is widely known for being the Justice in Chambers when a prohibition was placed on the certification of former Defense Minister J. Brownie Samukai to prevent him from taking seat as Senator of Lofa County despite being declared winner of the Midterm Senatorial elections of December 8, 2021 on the ticket of the Collaborating Political Parties (CPP) and by extension the former ruling Unity Party (UP).

In the wake of the Samukai saga at the Supreme Court, a petrol bomb attack occurred on the night of March 11, 2021 at the home of Associate Justice Nagbe within the Beverly Hills community in Banjor, Virginia. The attack took place after Cllr. Nagbe, as the Justice in Chambers, granted a Writ of Prohibition on the certification of former Defense Minister Samukai, as LofaCounty Senator-elect based on request from the opposition political party Movement for Progressive Change (MPC) through its Chairman O’Neill Passewe.

Though highly regarded to head the Judiciary branch, it has now been reliably gathered that due to Justice Nagbe’s poor health status, President George Manneh Weah has switched his attention on Deputy House Speaker Jonathan Fonati Koffa, a seasoned legal practitioner.

Having served as Chairman of the Committee on Judiciary of the House of Representatives, Cllr. Koffa was elected as Deputy Speaker to fill the void created by Prince Moye of Bong County following the latter’s election to the House of Senate.

Deputy Speaker Koffa is the founder of the International Law Group (ILG) and once served as Chairman of the opposition Liberty Party (LP). He got elected as Representative of Grand Kru County in 2017 before joining the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) even before the inauguration of President Weah.

The admirable credentials of Deputy Speaker Koffa include his appointment as Minister of State without Portfolio by then President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and thereafter as head of the Special Presidential Task Force that prosecuted former Speaker J. Alex Tyler and Senator Varney Sherman of Grand Cape Mount County in connection with the Sable Mining bribery scandal.            

Considering the rapid rise of Cllr. Koffa in national politics and the legal profession, insiders within the presidency have pointed to the Grand Kru County lawmaker as the man ripe for the job.  

Meanwhile, the nomination of a new Chief Justice is in fulfillment of Article 72(b) of the Constitution of Liberia, which provides that the Chief Justice and Associate Justices of the Supreme Court and Judges of subordinate courts of records shall be retired at the age of 70.

Chief Justice Korkpor has already disclosed that on September 5, 2022, he shall have attained the age of 70 and as a result, during the next opening ceremony of the Supreme Court on the second Monday in October in 2022, there may be a new Chief Justice or the senior Associate Justice in keeping with the practice and procedure.

He said during that time, the new Chief Justice shall be conducting the affairs of the Supreme Court and the Judiciary pending the appointment of a Chief Justice by the President of Liberia.

“Let me therefore seize this opportunity to say a few words reflecting on my sojourn at this seat of high honor, touching on some of the reform programs that my colleagues and I together have undertaken to improve conditions in the judiciary.”

He pointed out that it was after his many years of private law practice, serving mainly as lawyer for the Catholic Church and its affiliate institutions, and human rights advocacy with the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission that he was first appointed to the bench in 2004.

The Chief Justice stated that this was during the National Transitional Government of Liberia (NTGL) headed by the late Charles Gyude Bryant.

He added that the recommendation for him to serve on the Supreme Court was made by some members of Liberia National Bar Association (LNBA).

While also serving as one of the Justices in Chambers, he recalled that members of the Supreme Court bench at the time included Chief Justice Henry Reed Cooper and Associate Justices John L. Greaves, Ishmael P. Campbell and Felicia V. Coleman.

He noted that two members of that bench Justice Campbell and Justice Greaves have since departed this world.

He asserted that the tenure of the Supreme Court as set by the Accra Peace Accord (CPA) was two years, thus after two years of service, all five justices of the court resigned to give way to the new democratically- elected government headed by former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to appoint justices of the court under a constitutional government.

“I was the only justice who was retained and reappointed to the Supreme Court by President Sirleaf, because President Sirleafsaid to me that her decision to appoint me was for continuity of the programs and activities of the court and also based on certain criteria which she considered essential of a justice,” he disclosed.

He further explained that when the late Chief Justice Jonnie Lewis resigned in September 2012 due to illness, former President Sirleaf appointed him as Chief Justice, and the people of the country overwhelmingly endorsed the appointment.

“I cannot recall that there was a single person or institution in this country that raised issues with my nominations, twice as an Associate Justice and then Chief Justice,” he said, adding that “I have no connection that prompted or influenced my appointments to this Court.

“My preferment was purely based on whatever good those who appointed me saw in me,” Chief Justice Korkpor noted.

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