Ethical Misconduct: Cllr. Cephus Represents Plaintiff And Defendant In One Lawsuit
The Solicitor General of the Republic of Liberia, Cllr. Sayma Syrenius Cephus, is caught between the lines serving as the legal counsel for a plaintiff and, at the same time, serving as legal counsel for the defendant in the same case which, in the view of many spoken to by the Hot Pepper, appears like a conflict of interest or apparently a breach of the ethical standards of the legal profession.
The case Chae Dae Byoung, Choi Jung Woo, Chakwang Woon and Aleck Gold by and thru their Attorney-in-Fact, Jung Dal Park versus the Government of the Republic of Liberia by and thru the Ministry of Justice represented by the Acting Minister and Attorney-General, Benedict F. Sannoh, all Deputy and Assistant Ministers, Directors, Agents and representatives, including the Director of the Liberia National Police (LNP) and the National Security Agency (NSA) came to an end on October 5, 2020, with the Judge of the 13th Judicial Circuit Court, Her Honor, Mardea Tarr Chenoweth, requesting that the government pays to the Koreans US$1.4 million for general damages, special damages, successful attorney fees and annual statutory interest. On October 14, 2020, Judge Chenoweth wrote the Minister of Justice, Cllr. Frank Musah Dean, informing him about her ruling in the case and providing him a bill of cost of how the payment to the Koreans is structured. However, Cllr. Cephus has filed a Motion to Rescind against the final ruling of the judge, requesting that Her Honor rescind and overturn her final judgment in the case.
When the case first began in 2014, Cllr. Cephus, through the Innocent Project Africa Incorporated and CEMAR Law Firm, served as legal counsel for the Koreans against the government. Statement from the Korean businessmen has it that, up till now, Cllr. Cephus remains one of their legal counsels. Notwithstanding, as Solicitor General now, Cllr. Cephus has flipped his legal consultancy from the plaintiff (Koreans) and is now providing services for the defendant (government) in the same case.
In a ten-count motion to rescind, written on October 30, 2020, Cllr. Cephus demanded that Judge Chenoweth rescind her judgement in the case because the trial and rendition of final judgement in the matter exceeded the statutory required period of forty-two (42) days provided for jury sitting. According to him, the matter was initially ruled to trial for mixed issues of law and facts, but now jury was empaneled to determine the factual issues contained in the matter; instead, the entire matter was exclusively determined on the basis of law, in total contravention of the earlier recognition made by the court that the case presents both issues of law and facts.
“Movant says that Your Honor must rescind the judgment rendered in this matter because the regular Notice of Assignment issued on the 23rd day of September, AD 2020, ordered the parties to appear before Your Honor and this Honorable Court for trial of the above-mentioned cause of action on the 30th day of September, AD 2020, same being the 2nd day Chambers Session, which was beyond the 42-day jury sitting requirement,” Count three (3) of Cllr. Cephus’ Motion to Rescind noted.
He said the court will not be in error if it proceeds to rescind the “erroneous judgment” on ground that the Supreme Court has held in the case, “Raymond International (Liberia) Ltd. Vs. Jonah A. Dennis 25LLR131(1976) syl 7”, that “A Judge may modify or rescind ruling or judgment in the term in which he is sitting but only upon notice to the parties”.
Nevertheless, the authorized Attorney-in-Fact for the four Korean businessmen in the case, Jung Dal Park, has formally written a complaint of ethical misconduct against Cllr. Cephus to the Chief Justice of the Republic, His Honor Francis S. Korkpor, Sr., requesting his office to commission an investigation into the conduct of the Solicitor General and right the wrong he has committed.
“I am constrained to complain Cllr. Saymah Syrenius Cephus, Solicitor General, Republic of Liberia, for ethical misconduct. Cllr. Cephus was hired and legally represented the within named Korean nationals (Chae Dae Byoung, Choi Jung Woo, Chakwang Woon and Aleck Gold) by and thru his law firms, Innocent Project Africa, Inc. and CEMAR Law Firm in the matter of the Republic of Liberia vs. Chae Dae Byoung, et all., before the Ministry of Justice and the David A.B. Jallah Committee commissioned by the then President of the Republic of Liberia, Her Excellency Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, to investigate the NSA’s criminal allegations against the named Koreans,” Park’s complaint of ethical misconduct to Chief Justice Korkpor noted.
According to Park’s complaint, “In consideration for Cllr. Cephus’ acceptance and provision of legal services to the Koreans by and through me, we paid him and he, along with Cllr. Edwin Martin, County Attorney for the County of Montserrado, provided legal representation at the MOJ, the Surpeme Court of Liberia and the David A.B. Jallah Committee. In so doing, Cllr. Cephus wrote letters, filed papers and represented the legal interest of the aforementioned Koreans, and remains one of their legal counsels up to now. However, on October 30, 2020, Cllr. Cephus turned around and filed a motion for the Judge of the 13th Judicial Circuit Court to rescind her final judgement in the said case. This conduct on the part of Cllr. Cephus is both unethical and runs contrary to the Code of Moral and Professional Conduct governing lawyers in Liberia. As by the said conduct, Cllr. Cephus is representing two parties with conflicting interest in the same suit.”
He attached to his complaint copies of the receipts of payments made and received by Cllr. Cephus, the Final Report of the David A.B. Jallah Committee set up by the Government of Liberia (GOL) to carry out an independent investigation of the circumstances leading up to the arrest and confiscation of the principal’s money and properties, an August 7, 2014 letter written by Cllr. Cephus to the Minister of Justice, Christiana Tah, a letter from the David A.B. Jallah’s Special Investigation Committee dated September 10, 2014 and addressed to Cllr. Cephus and then Atty. Edwin K. Martin, receipts for monies paid to Cephus’s law office, CEMAR Law Firm, as superintending cost for the filing of a Petition for Mandamus to the Supreme Court, plus an additional receipt from Cllr. Cephus representing cost for registration of case, dated August 5, 2014.
When the Hot Pepper contacted the Solicitor General about the case growing out of the case between the Korean businessmen and the Government of Liberia (GOL), he told the paper that he has recused himself from the case because he first served as legal counsel for the Koreans in the matter but cannot continue due to his new portfolio as Solicitor General of the Republic of Liberia. He said he has asked the court remove his name from the case docket in order to avoid conflict of interest.
Howbeit, documents coming from the court as it relates to the case still bears the name of the Solicitor General as the legal counsel for the government. This, according to observers, could either mean that the court has refused to remove his name from the case or, most likely, Cllr. Cephus did not recuse himself from the matter. Investigation continues.