Judge Kaba Grants Korkoyah’s Request for Indefinite Court Hearing

Liberian Temple of Justice where the Civil Law Court is located.

 

By Special Correspondent

Inside the packed Civil Law Courtroom in Monrovia on Monday (May 1,2017), all eyes were set on the witness stand. The National Election Commission Chairman, Jerome Korkoyah, was due to testify in his own case of defamation brought against two local newspapers and a journalist.

But as the court opens to begin arguments, the witness stand remains empty. Star witness, Mr. Korkoyah, was absent. Then the unexpected happened. His lawyers requested an indefinite postponement of the case because the plaintiff, Mr. Korkoyah, was scheduled to travel.

Silence temporarily prevailed before murmuring erupted in the public gallery. “What exactly would Korkoyah have said in his testimony?” Some asked.

Korkoyah, also a lawyer, is currently wrapped in a controversy related to his citizenship. There are report that he holds a US passport, something that may disqualify him from being chairman of the elections commission.

But the case in court is unrelated to his embattled citizenship question. It is the result of a publication in the New Democrat and Analyst newspapers on June 6, 2016. The opinion piece, written by journalist and former Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s member John Stewart, raised questions about Korkoyah’s performance at the election commission.

Mr. Stewart accused Chairman Korkoyah of corruption and incompetence. For example, Stewart’s article alleged that Korkoyah accepted a Ford SUV from a Senatorial candidate in the 2014 elections. The article also alluded to election results fixing.

The NEC chairman said Stewart’s article defamed and injured his “hard earned reputation.” He is seeking $200,000 in general damages and $75,000 in punitive damages from each of the independent newspapers which published the article and its author, Stewart, bringing the total to $825,000.

Judge Yussif Kaba granted Korkoyah lawyers’ request to postpone the case indefinitely and went on to dismiss the jury.

No one knows immediately where Korkoyah is expected to travel as the case has sparked public interest

in the country.

Like many other Liberian government officials, suing media for reporting public criticisms of public officials is a routine chore. Former Agriculture Minister Chris Toe sued the Frontpageafrica newspaper in a multimillion dollars’s libel suit over an audit report.

The New Democrat has been sued many times by officials for stories they believe were not true. In all of the cases however, the courts never required the officials to proof that the stories were wrong and how they were harmed by the publications.

A public official who sues and claims injury of reputation has the burden to proof the harm, according to independent legal experts interviewed.

“Public officials who are in the eyes of the public daily and suffered negative statements, must be made to point out the harm they have suffered due to “defamatory publications,” says one expert.

According to human rights lawyer Taiwon Gongloe, who is representing journalist Stewart, the NEC chairman has not established the injury he has suffered such as political parties’ loss of confidence in him (Korkoyah) or his removal from office by the President of Liberia, as the consequence of the June 6, 2016 publication.

 

 

 

 

Filed in: Breaking

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