Liberia: Gov’t Confiscates Court’s Files for 20 Jailed Protesters

By Abednego Davis

(From left) County Attorney Edwin Martin, accused of confiscating court’s files of 20 jailed protesters; Magistrate Kennedy Peabody is accused of facilitating Cllr. Martin’s action

-Cllr. Supuwood claims, as Magistrate Kennedy Peabody admits

Lawyers representing 20 jailed protesters and Montserrado District #10 Lawmaker Yekeh Kolubah (not detained) have to wait on a decision of Criminal Court ‘A’ to see whether the court can prevail on Magistrate Kennedy Peabody of the Monrovia City Court to reverse the magistrate’s action to surrender the case files to the Montserrado County Attorney, Cllr. Edward Martin, one of prosecutors’ lead lawyers, without their knowledge.

This was due to a decision on Tuesday, June 11 by Magistrate Peabody to transfer the case files without a preliminary examination of the charges brought against the defendants by the Liberia National Police (LNP) to the county attorney.

The defendants, most of whom are students of the University of Liberia (UL) were charged for their alleged individual roles played on June 5, when Montserrado County District #10 Rep. Yekeh Kolubah’s supporters protested against the Police invitation of the lawmaker based on allegations that he ordered the flogging of a man believed to be a resident of Gaye Town, Old Road where Kolubah also resides.

The 20 are facing charges that range from terroristic threats, criminal facilitation, aggravated assault and felonious restraint, all of which are bailable offenses.

Magistrate Peabody had earlier scheduled the matter for hearing on Tuesday, June 11, by 9AM, a communication emanating from the Monrovia City Court and obtained by the Daily Observer revealed.

In a summary proceedings complaint filed before Judge Roosevelt Z. Willie against the attitude of the magistrate, the lead defense lawyer, Laveli Supuwood, claimed that when they arrived for the bond hearing on yesterday, Tuesday, June 11, to their surprise Magistrate Peabody informed them that he had turned over the case files to the County Attorney of Montserrado.

The reason, according to Cllr. Supuwood quoting Magistrate Peabody, “it was for the purpose to prepare an indictment against the defendants.”

Cllr. Supuwood also argued that the defendants had been in jail for seven days on the orders of Magistrate Peabody.

However, Peabody admitted granting Martin’s approval to take possession of the case files because he filed an application requesting the use of the case files to indict the defendants. Peabody, according to a document obtained by the Daily Observer, had earlier scheduled the matter for hearing on Tuesday, June 11, at 9AM.

“I scheduled the matter for today, but the county attorney came early and filed the application to transfer the case to the Grand Jury for Montserrado County for indictment,” Peabody maintained, adding “This is a case beyond my jurisdiction and as such I have to transfer it immediately. That was why I agreed to give the document to the county attorney.”

According to Magistrate Peabody, on Monday, June 10, he attempted releasing the defendants to a member of the defense team, Cllr. Finley Y. Karngar, but Karngar refused to accept his offer. However, Karngar has so far denied the allegations.

“Karngar and I are best friends and we both graduated from the Louis Arthur Grimes School of Law at the University of Liberia, and so, I decided to release the defendants into his care and he refused to take the offer,” Peabody claimed.

Peabody quoted Cllr. Karngar saying,” Karngar told me that he was refusing my offer so that the World can see that President George Weah’s government was keeping political prisoners.”

Magistrate Peabody claimed Karnga’s response annoyed him so much that he had to cut short the discussion with him. The Magistrate however did not say whether that was the reason for his decision to allow Cllr. Martin take custody of his court’s document.

Further, Cllr. Supuwood complained that the procedure adopted by the court was unusual because there was no evidence or record of any application from the county attorney for the turnover of the case files, adding, “Certainly, there is no notice to the defense team of said application.”

Further according to Cllr. Supuwood “The action of the court deprives the defense team opportunity for preliminary examination, especially when Magistrate Peabody had issued and served a notice of assignment for Tuesday, June 11 at 9AM,” Supuwood’s complaint noted.

The complaint maintained that to give the court’s files to the county attorney where the defendants have not been made to answer to the charges was a violation of 12.4 of the Criminal Procedure Law.

The law states that, “After the conclusion of the preliminary examination, if the defendants have been held to answer, the magistrate or justice of the peace shall transmit forthwith to the clerk of the Circuit Court having jurisdiction of the offense all papers in the proceeding and any bail which has been taken. The record of the testimony of the witnesses taken at the examination shall be signed and certified by him.”

Supuwood argued that Magistrate Peabody turned over the court’s files directly to the county attorney without a hearing or any information or records to the defense team.

Therefore, the complaint argued, “reverse Magistrate Peabody’s action of transferring the case file without a hearing or records to the county attorney office to resume jurisdiction and have hearing to the notice of assignment, so as to give the defendants an opportunity to preliminary examination.”

Judge Willie is yet to set any date for hearing of the complaint against Magistrate Peabody. But a lawyer (name withheld) told the Daily Observer that Magistrate Peabody’s action simply reaffirms what national and international human rights groups have long maintained that in Liberian courts of law, justice is for sale to the highest bidder.

Moreover, he maintained that Magistrate Peabody’s action should be not surprising because the judiciary has historically been an appendage of the Executive, obeying debased commands rather than serving unfettered and unadulterated justice to all without fear or favor.

In the case at bar, the lawyer argued, Magistrate Peabody has, in violation of the law caved in to the whims of an Executive seemingly anxious to prove that it can be tough, adding that although Magistrate Peabody is fully aware and knowledgeable of the law, he acted as such to avoid the wrath of the powers that be.

Source Daily Observer.

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