Monrovia – Court records in possession of FrontPageAfrica show that President George Weah’s Minister of Justice-designate, Cllr. Charles Gibson recently completed the payment of the client’s funds he misapplied and petitioned the high court to allow him resume active law practice again in the country.
Cllr. Gibson filed his petition with the Supreme Court sometime this month but the highest court of the land is yet to lift his suspension.
This means, as long as the suspension remains in place, he is banned from practicing law in the length and breadth of Liberia until as such time.
Cllr. Gibson made the payment on January 6, 2018 at the Liberia Bank for Development and Investment (LBDI) almost a year since he was sanctioned from practicing his profession.
Following the completion of the payment, he filed a petition to restore his status as Counsellor-at-Law of the Supreme Court Bar to enable him resume the practice of law in Liberia.
In his petition, Cllr. Gibson averred that the two-month’s suspension has been served and the US$25,322.00 paid to the complainant thus requesting the high court to restore him to his professional status as Counsellor-at-Law of the Court.
“I’m determined and committed to upholding and abiding by the code of conduct of lawyers and that Your Honor and this Honorable Court will look favorably upon petitioner’s petition in order to put this matter to rest,” he pleaded in his petition to the court.
The Justice Minister-designate requested the court to restore his license as a practicing lawyer and to enable him pursue his professional career.
It can be recalled that a former Justice Minister for the same post to which Cllr. Gibson has been nominated, Cllr. Christiana Tah’s license was suspended by the Supreme Court and because of that, she was temporarily relieved of her post by former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
After Cllr. Tah had served the full suspension, the Supreme Court restored her right to practice law again in Liberia.
The Supreme Court, in hearing the Notice of Suspension against Cllr. Tah, Chief Justice Francis Kporkor ordered the legal license of the then Justice Minister be restored
Recently, Liberia’s representative at the ECOWAS Court, Cllr. M. Wilkins Wright’s license was revoked by the Supreme Court for 12 months.
With the suspension in place, Cllr. Wright was forced to leave his position at the regional body’s court as one of the Vice Presidents.
He was recently replaced with Judge Yusuf Kaba.
The Vice President of the Liberia National Bar Association (NBA), Cllr. Bima Lansanah, said under Liberia’s Jurisprudence, a lawyer suspended cannot engage into law practice.
“If a lawyer is suspended from the practice of law, under our jurisprudence you are barred from practicing law,” Cllr. Lansanah said.
When contacted earlier in on Tuesday, January 23, Cllr. Gibson requested that FPA call him by 5:00 (1700) p.m.
At that time, several attempts were made to speak with him on the phone, to no avail as his phone just rang endlessly and a few minutes later it was turned off.
Why Gibson was suspended
Gibson was suspended by the Supreme Court based on findings from the Grievance and Ethics Committee for misappropriating US$25,322.00 (Twenty-Five Thousand Three Hundred Thirty Two United States Dollars) from a client.
“Counsellor Charles H. Gibson be, and is hereby suspended from the practice of law directly and indirectly in Liberia for the period of two (2) months.”
The committee reports show that the proceedings started from a 2013 final judgment rendered by the Debt Court for Montserrado County, awarding the complainant, GECCO represented by its President, Mr. Anwar Saoud the amount of US $286,200.00 (Two Hundred Eighty-Six Thousand, Two Hundred United States Dollars) against the Global Bank Liberia Ltd.
The parties agreed that amount would be paid in five installments of which Counsellor Gibson represented the complainant in the debt action.
On November 17, 2014, GECCO represented by its President filed a complaint with the Chief Justice, Francis S. Korkpor, Sr., alleging unethical and unprofessional conduct by its lawyer, Cllr. Gibson.
The crux of the complaint was that GECCO had authorized Cllr Gibson to receive the installment payments in satisfaction of the final judgment of the Debt Court and that he, Cllr. Gibson retains 20% on each installment payment collected as compensation for his legal services.
The complainant also alleged that it agreed with Cllr. Gibson that upon receipt of the last installment payment in the amount of US $31,653.33 (Thirty One Thousand Six Hundred Fifty Three United States Dollars and Thirty Three Cents), and after deduction of his 20% legal fees, he (Cllr. Gibson) should remit the balance to Counselor Johnny Momoh, who at the time was within the employment of the Sherman & Sherman, Inc., for onward transfer to a named beneficiary, Mr. George Koussa; but that upon receiving the last installment payment Cllr. Gibson failed to honor the agreement and instead retained possession of the entire amount of US $31,653.33 and that all efforts asserted to retrieve same from him proved futile.
In the letter of the to the Chief Justice, GECCO said “A legal counsel representing my interest in a case between Global Bank and GECCO, received the final payment relative to the settlement from the Debt Court, Montserrado County, in the amount of US$31,653.33 (thirty-one thousand six hundred fifty-three United States dollars thirty-three cents) to be turned to Counsellor Momoh of the Sherman & Sherman Law Firm, but have since failed to pay said amount to the beneficiary Mr. George Koussa.”
“Several alerts made by me to retrieve the US$31,653.33 (thirty-one thousand six hundred fifty-three United States dollars thirty-three cents) have failed, GECCO said.
The complainant said Cllr. Gibson claimed to have used the money personally even though he also has received 20% on each payment made in respect of the case as commission for representing my interest.
“Hon. Chief Justice, please use your good office and ensure that I get redress.”
In response, Cllr. Gibson said he was the lead lawyer, along with Cllr. Thompson Jargba, who successfully represented GECCO in an Action of Debt by Attachment against Global Bank in which 20% of each collection is retained and/paid as compensation for legal services rendered.
“An aggregate of US$286,200 was collected in five disbursements over a period of 10 months (September 2013-June 2014).
He added that he also represented or representing GECCO and/GECCO and his partner’s interest in seven other cases in the Commercial Court, Civil Law Court, Monthly and Probate Court for Montserrado County and the Supreme Court of Liberia, with accumulative invoices for legal services now amounts to nearly US$16,750.
“GECCO had an unpaid outstanding for me in the amount of US$9,000 from earliest collections from Global Bank, with regards to the seven other cases, GECCO acknowledged my invoices for services rendered and/or being rendered and deducted the full amount of US$29,500 as opposed to the due payment invoices totaling US$16,750. “
He continued: “In essence, the complainant acknowledged and deducted half of the said US$29,500 from his partner’s (George Koussa) from earlier collection from Global Bank but neglected to deliver same to me.”
“Cllr. T.C. Gould and I handled one of the cases and GECCO paid Cllr. Gould but repeating deferred payment to me on appeal and I should wait for the final payment from Global Bank. Cllr. Thompson Jargba and Cllr. Joseph Constance assisted three of the seven cases.”
In June 2014, the final payment was received in the amount of US$31,653.33 - the usual 20 percent legal fee (US$6,330.66) was collected thus leaving a balance of US$25,322.
He said the due legal fee for the seven cases US$16,750 was deducted from the US$25,522 leaving a balance US$8,772.
Adding that a check of US$8,000 was offered to GECCO in late October 2014 by Cllr. Gibson but GECCO refused it demanding the full US$31,653.33.
Cllr. Gibson said thereafter it was discovered that GECCO still had an outstanding of US$9,000 for him from earlier collection in March 2014.
“Therefore the US$9,000 was deducted from the US$8,772 thus leaving an unpaid balance of US$427.00 due Cllr. Gibson by GECCO.”
Cllr. Gibson said the issue of the complainant is not ethical but purely judicial; for which he has adequate remedy at law.
He requested the committee to dismissed the complaint adding that complainant be advised to seek judicial remedy if he strongly believes in the rightness of his claim and the client - lawyer relationship between the complainant and Cllr. Gibson be terminated for all on-going and appealed cases in accordance with the controlling statute.
The committee in its opinion said there was an ethical breach and that the matter was not judicial as claimed by Cllr. Gibson in his answer to the complaint.
The committee recommends to the Supreme Court that Cllr. Gibson pays back his client the US$25,322.00 and then he has the liberty to pursue his client for money owed him from other legal services provided and linked to the other 7 cases.”
Amici curiae were appointed, which included Counsellors Tiawan S. Gongloe, N. Oswald Tweh and Katheleen P. Makor.
Amici Curiae is ‘friends of the court’ appointed to offer candid and independent opinion or advice to the Court based on the facts and the laws controlling in order to aid the Court in judiciously rendering a decision.
On August 31, 2016, a notice of assignment was ordered issued by the assistant clerk of the Court and same placed in the hands of the Marshall for service on Counsellor Charles H. Gibson, mandating him to appear and file on September 5, 2016, a response to the Committee’s report and recommendations, if he so desires.
The Marshall’s returns show that all efforts to serve Counsellor Gibson with the notice of assignment and the Committee’s report proved futile, as his law offices remained closed. Hence, the Court ordered the case re-assigned for September 7, 2016.
When the case was called on September 7, 2016 the Court observed that in addition to Counsellor Gibson’s absence from the hearing, he did not file any formal response or legal brief, neither did he file an excuse explaining his absence.
The Marshall when asked by the Chief Justice informed the Court that he tried calling but no answer until he decided to use an unknown number to call Counsellor Gibson to which call, he, Counsellor Gibson promptly responded and was notified about these proceedings.
“In other words, his phone will ring and he will never answer nor return the call even though the Marshall was able to send text messages in this regards informing him about his case; the date of the hearing and the time. I also informed him of the number of times we had visited his office and [found the office locked].
He informed me that he has no staff; he runs his Law Firm alone and that he is presently in Harper City [Maryland County] conducting a workshop,”
The records show clearly that Counsellor Gibson abused the confidence reposed in him by collecting his client’s money, deviating from their agreement and converting same to his own, albeit on the pretext of paying himself for services rendered in other unrelated matters.
The law terms this act as misappropriation, which is inclusive of the act of simple conversion.
Also, Counsellor Gibson by his own admissions as contained in his formal response filed with the Grievance and Ethics Committee stated that he issued a check in the amount of US $8,772.00, to the complainant, an amount far less than the agreed amount of US $25,322.00.
Additionally, Counselor Gibson applied his client’s money to an unintended purpose other than that which was agreed upon; that he, Counselor Gibson deliberately and purposefully misappropriated and converted his client’s funds to his own personal use in that there are no mitigating circumstances to justify his actions.
In that document, he outlined eight cases, seven of which are completely distinct and separate from the current case.
Interestingly, Counsellor Gibson presented a summation of his claim and based upon which he retained the entire US$31,653.33 he had collected as final installment payment on behalf of the client. The summation reads as follows:
- Final Payment collected from Global Bank...... US$31,653.33
- Minus 20% collection fee........................ US$6,330.66
- Minus invoices for other cases ......................US$16,750.00
- Minus old balance due on collection ................US$9,000.00
- Total Final collection ............... .................US$31,653.33
- Total Deductions for Legal Services .................US$32,080.66
- GECCO outstanding to Cllr. Gibson ...............US$427.33
The Court wondered how the learned Counselor established the claims and secondly, how he expects the court to accept his claims without same being proven.
The committee added that it is highly contradictory that Counselor Gibson would urge GEECO to proceed to a court of law in settling claims against him but then on the other hand he, Counselor Gibson did not proceed to a court of competent jurisdiction to pursue his claims for alleged unpaid legal fees from other unrelated cases in which he represented GECCO.
The committee said the conversion and misappropriation of GECCO money by Counselor Gibson was deliberate and well calculated and such constitutes serious ethical infraction that demands a more severe punishment then what is being recommended by the Grievance and Ethics Committee and the amici curiae, in order to not only penalize Counsellor Gibson but to also serve as a deterrent to would be violators.
Moreover, and as stated earlier the behavior of Counsellor Gibson in deliberately avoiding service of assignments and refusal to respond to the Marshall’s text messages and calls, constitutes gross disrespect to this Honorable Court.
“Wherefore, and in view of the foregoing, the findings of the Grievance and Ethics Committee are affirmed and confirmed but with modifications stated herein below:
“That for his calculated conversion and misappropriation of the said US$25,322.00 (Twenty Five Thousand Three Hundred Thirty Two United States Dollars) Counselor Charles H. Gibson be, and is hereby suspended from the practice of law directly and indirectly in Liberia for the period of two months.
1) That he is ordered to pay the amount of US$25,322.00 to GECCO through its President, Anwar A. Saoud, within two months as of the rendition of this Opinion and furnish receipt of payment to the Marshall of this Court.
2) That failure by Counsellor Gibson to pay the said amount within the two months period specified herein, his suspension shall remain in full force and effect until the amount is fully paid.
A close source of the Supreme Court said the immediate payment by Cllr. Gibson was done because he had the hint that he was about to be appointed as Minister of Justice.
The complainant Saoud refused to disclosed his identity when FPA met him in his vehicle, “Mr. Saoud is not around as you can see his store is closed.”
When news of Cllr Gibson and other began to circulate on social media, people began to do background checks on the new appointees.
Some social media pundits have stressed that the President Weah’s pledge to battle corruption must begin with the integrity of those who will be appointed.
They added that the Attorney General or Justice Minister, who is expected to prosecute corruption and other crimes against the state, cannot be found in such unethical dealings.