On June 22, 2023, former Chief Justice Gloria Musu Scott’s legal team asked the Monrovia City Court for permission to release her and three other relatives while their cases were being tried.
The charges against Cllr. Musu-Scott, Gertrude Newton, Rebecca Y. Wisner, and Alice C. Johnson include murder, criminal conspiracy, and making false statements to law enforcement.
On Thursday, June 22, 2023, the four family members were sent to the Monrovia Central Prison while they awaited trial.
Their legal team filed an 11-count motion before the city court. The court of first instance; seeking their release from South Beach while the hearing is pending.
But the magistrate reserved his decision until Friday, June 23, 2023, after hearing arguments on the motion from both the state’s lawyers and the defendant’s counsel.
The motion to admit to bail
In the motion, the defendants (Cllr. Scott’s) legal team submitted and said that they fall squarely within the expressed meaning and intent of Chapter III, Article 21 (d) (i) of the Liberian Constitution, and considering their special circumstances, inclusive of prolonged national public service.
They argued that Chapter III, Article 21 (d) (i), regarding “persons” who “shall be bailable upon their personal recognizance, fits their client.
Cllr. Scott’s lawyer furthered that they are qualified under the Liberian Constitution (1986, as amended) and are consequently entitled to enjoy said right to be granted and admitted to bail based on “Personal Recognizance.”
Personal recognizance, according to Black’s Law Dictionary (9th Edition), “allows the release of a defendant in a criminal case in which the court takes the defendant’s word that he or she will appear for a scheduled matter or when told to appear.
Additionally, the lawyers in the motion said the organic law of the land (1986 Constitution of Liberia) under Article 21 (d) (i) thereof states that “All accused persons shall be bailable upon their personal recognizance or by sufficient sureties.
Our Emphasis is that one of the movants or defendants has lived in this country all their lives and has served the Republic and people in different categories.”
The motions said: “They have never been arrested for any criminal offence, have no criminal records whatsoever, and are not at flight risk.”
Movants and Defendants respectfully said that since they are not at flight risk, they ought to be granted bail and not subjected to the punishment of incarceration before judicial determination of alleged wrongdoing. Hence, this motion. The 1986 Constitution of Liberia instructs in Article 21 (d) (ii) ii. “Excessive bail shall lie.
Who is Cllr Scott?
Cllr. Musu-Scott, a Liberian legal luminary, is the country’s second female Chief Justice, following Cllr. Frances Johnson-Allison.
She worked as a Prosecutor at the Ministry of Justice, and in 1991, she was appointed as an Assistant Minister of Justice.
Cllr. Scott was appointed as the Judge for the Monthly and Probate courts in Montserrado County by the President of the Interim Government.
During the ongoing civil war, she was appointed Minister of Justice and Chairman of the Ad Hoc Elections Commission in 1996.
She later joined the Independent Elections Commission, which oversaw the 1997 Liberian elections.
Following the 1997 elections and the restoration of the Constitution, Cllr. Musu- Scott was appointed Chief Justice of the Republic of Liberia’s Supreme Court from 1997 to 2003.
Cllr. Musu-Scott was elected Senator for Maryland County in the General Elections in 2005. During her Senate tenure, she founded the Women Legislative Caucus of Liberia, which she led until the end of her term in 2012.
Due to her prior experience in legal action, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf appointed her Chairperson of the Constitution Review Committee in 2012. Cllr. Musu-Scott has been an adjunct faculty member at the Louis Arthur Grimes School of Law since 2012.
Magistrate Ben Barco Ruling:
The Monrovia City Court is presided over by Stipendiary Magistrate Ben Barco.
Early this year, he replaced Magistrate Jorma Jallah through a presidential appointment. And the matter at hand is his first “big case” since assuming that position.
The motion to admit the bail was denied by Magistrate Barco on June 23, 2023, for two reasons: lack of jurisdiction and the defense attorneys’ refusal to attend the preliminary hearing.
Magistrate Barco dismissed the motion to include the former Chief Justice and her three relatives in the bail, citing the defense attorneys’ failure to wait for the preliminary hearing to be held by the court before applying for the bail bond.
According to him, the preliminary hearing will determine whether the evidence presented by the prosecution team supports the charges levied against the defendants; otherwise, the motion will be denied.
The defense attorneys did not ask for a preliminary hearing in this case before asking for a bail bond, the court further stated.
However, the judge said the case, which is a first-degree felony, is outside of the court’s jurisdiction, and as a result, the court is unable to grant the defense lawyers request to admit the defendants to bail.
As a result, the court is unable to pay the defense attorneys’ requested fee.
Simultaneously, the court transferred the case to the appropriate court, the first judicial circuit Criminal Court A.
Will the defendants be let out of jail?
The answer is left with Court ‘A, even though the magistrate court rejected the bail.
If it had been approved, the defendants would have been freed.
Those defendants would unquestionably return home and appear in court when necessary.
Furthermore, the defense attorneys expressed their disagreement with the magistrate’s ruling. They stated they would use the status control to request a summary hearing at the circuit level from the court.
The City Court is the same as a magisterial court, it has the judicial power that is typically granted by statute because its authority is limited to that of a magisterial court.
What does it mean for the Magistrate to deny the bail bond request?
Cllr. Elisha Forkeyor, a former public defender, says the highest crime for which the former Chief Justice is charged is Murder. Which is not bailable, at least at this early stage
Cllr. David Woah, a former prosecutor, said the first thing for the lawyers to do in this case is to pray for a preliminary examination.
“If the magistrate denies the request for bail, he sends the matter to the circuit, where the defendant’s lawyers have to show proof is not evident and presumption is not great that the defendant committed the crime before bail is granted.”
It is unclear how long Cllr. Scott and the others will be held in the central prison while Criminal Court schedules the case.
Melvin Jackson contributed