MONROVIA – In the midst of resounding praises for his invaluable services to Liberia, the illustrious legal and public service career of former Chief Justice Francis Korkpor came to an end yesterday at a befitting retirement program, which coincided with the end of the March 2022 term of court at the Supreme Court of Liberia that saw President George Manneh Weah leading an array of top government officials that also included Vice President Mrs. Jewel Howard Taylor, Speaker Bhofal Chambers, President Pro Tempore of the Senate, Albert T. Chie, Members of the national legislature, members of the cabinet, members of the diplomatic corps, business executives, among others, to pay homage to Justice Korkpor.
Along with his colleagues, Cllr, Korkpor was ushered into the hall with a march before the commencement of the program while Associate Justice Jamesetta Wolokollie read out the order of the program.
The Louis Arthur Grimes School of Law, University of Liberia, where Cllr. Korkpor graduated and taught for a long period of time, in most cases on pro bono, opened the floodgate of commendations, with the Dean, Prof. Jallah Barbue, praising him for his sacrificial services rendered the institution on a free of charge basis as well as for the wealth of knowledge and wisdom he shared with members of the faculty and the students.
Prof. Barbue’s summation was followed by the President of the Liberia National Bar Association (LNBA), Cllr. Sylvester Rennie, who in his speech praised the outgoing Chief Justice for his immense contributions to the legal profession in the country and the cordial relationship that existed with the bar.
He said though the relationship between the bar and the former CJ was not always rosy, both always found a midpoint to resolve whatever issue that may have existed for the benefit of the profession. He said Korkpor’s exit from the exalted position challenged the rest of the bench he was leaving behind.
Members of the Diplomatic Corps who were also part of the event took the opportunity to speak at the occasion and shower praises on the former CJ beginning with the Swedish Ambassador to Liberia, Urban Sjostrom. He commended Korkpor for his leadership role on the bench of the Supreme Court and the impact the apex court had on entrenching democracy in the country
For his part, the US Ambassador to Liberia, Michael McCarthy, extolled Korkpor for his long tenure on the bench, stating that his tenure both as Associate Justice and Chief Justice witnessed some of the most critical periods in Liberia especially the three presidential and general elections and the special midterm senatorial elections. He acknowledged the leadership role played as head of the judiciary branch of government where he recorded some achievements despite the challenges.
He pledged the support of the US government through the Embassy near Monrovia while also underscoring the importance of the judiciary in the democratic process of any country.
Also speaking at the occasion, the UN Resident Coordinator Mr. Neils Scott said he highly appreciated working with Korkpor for the short time he has been here and also his predecessors in implementing some of the projects undertaken by his agency. He singled out the James AA Pierre Judicial Institute that has been training magistrates to support the judicial process in the country.
While speaking also at the program the Minister of Justice Cllr. Frank Musa Dean, apparently seeing that at age 70 Korkpor still has a lot to offer the country, recommended a national dialogue to visit and amend the retirement law of Chief Justice, associates and judges across the Country. Minister Dean said that there is a need for the retirement law of the 1986 constitution to be revisited because it does not conform with current day reality.
“As such, we hereby announce the need for a national dialogue to revisit the age clause in the constitution. Our legal system is patterned after that of the United States. The justices of the United State Supreme Court serve until they die, resign, retire or are impeached. An amended version of this constitutional provision is proposed,’’ Cllr. Dean recommended in his testimonials to the outgoing Chief Justice.
Article 72. b of the 1986 Constitution of Liberia provides that the Chief Justice, and the Associate Justices of the Supreme Court, as well as judges of subordinate courts of record shall retire at the age of seventy; provided, however, that a justice or judge who has attained that age may continue in office for as long as may be necessary to enable him to render judgment or perform any other judicial duty in regard to proceeding entertained by him before he attained that age.
Cllr. Dean disclosed that he and many legal practitioners continue to reflect on the practicality of the constitutional provision, given the evolving demand of change in nature for the legal system, and acknowledged that the longer the years of practice, the wealthier in experience the individual becomes.
“The seventy years of retirement for our Chief Justice and Associates Justices may not be realistic today. We think they have more to do and a lot to offer because at that age they are wise in the law and loaded with experience, therefore the least age should be seventy-five,’’ he recommended.
”In the instance where our retired Chief Justice and Associates justices continue to be labor with knowledge, experience, good health; therefore, there must be revision of the Judicial Reform program to consider the concept of a council of board of former chief justice and associate justice. I believe that our retired chief justice and associate justices have maturity in the law and they will be invaluable assets to the judicial process of Liberia,’’ Cllr. Dean noted.
When it was time for testimonials, each of the four other Associate Justices spoke profoundly about Justice Korkpor, recounting various moments on the Bench, some going as far as during their school days.
The incoming CJ Cllr. Sie-A-Nyene Gyapay Yuoh said unlike others who highlighted Korkpor’s achievements as CJ, but she would look at the humanity side of the celebrant, something she said was important to her as a classmate at the Louis Arthur Grimes School of Law.
“Unlike others, I will prefer to look at the humanity side because for me, I have known him far before we all had the opportunity to serve on the bench. Our lives crossed paths before the career that brought us together on the bench of supreme. He is a man of honor, always leading others and found it as a pleasure helping others and that was what he exhibited when he served as CJ. He will be highly missed”, she said.
The new Chief Justice said that she took seriously the recommendation of the Justice Minister for the establishment of the council board of former chief justices and associate justices.
“I take note of your recommendation for the concept of the council board of former chief justices and associate justices. We will see how to work around that and do something about it because that is a very fine and beautiful proposal,’’ she concluded.
President George Manneh Weah, who spoke at last said in his speech that Justice Korkpor has paid his dues, dating as far back as when he championed the cause of the poor and needy and when he represented the interest of the nation by his support for civil society and journalists.
“During his work at the Justice and Peace Commission established by the Catholic Church in the early 1990s to address human rights abuses and injustices in our society,” President Weah recalled, Cllr Kporkpor quietly but fearlessly made the case for justice and peace for all Liberians, but especially for the underprivileged and the poor.
“Many times, his work brought him into conflict with some of Liberia’s past leaders, but he always remained steadfast to the cause of justice,” the Liberian Leader said further, adding that Justice Korkpor’s record for almost two decades as a Justice on the Supreme Court bench has remained exemplary and outstanding.
“He dedicated his time, first as an Associate Justice and later as Chief Justice, to seeing through key judicial reforms – as well as embarking on the development of major additions and improvements to court infrastructure throughout the country, thereby bringing justice closer to the people,” Dr. Weah pointed out.
The Liberian Chief Executive used the occasion to speak fondly of his youthful interaction with the outgoing Chief Justice.
He said, referring directly to Cllr Kporkpor: “And now, on a personal note, I would like to inform this audience that Chief Justice Korkpor is no stranger to me. Papay, now that you are retiring, I am about to burst out our little secret. I am free now to talk, so now I’m talking. I took all these years to hide our secret.”
He continued: “I have known Papay [elderly man] since 1986, some 36 years ago. At that time, he was a serious I.E. supporter, and as I was a player for I.E. He was a very kind person to me. Many times, during my school days, when it was rough, I used to go to his office, and he never failed me,” President Weah stated whimsically, noting that, Korkpor during that time became a mentor and a strong father figure in his life.
“So, Papay, as you retire today, I can now tell the world that you are my Pa. I can go around you now, and associate freely with you. I know you are retiring now, but I am still your son, yeah? Now that you are leaving the Government, I am still your son, yeah? So, thank you, Papay, for everything that you have done for me. When times were hard, you were there. When times were good, you were still there. But what I enjoy most is the respect that we kept for each other. Respect and love”, President Weah said.
His Honor Francis S. Korkpor, Sr., was born in a little village called Zao, Lao Clan, lower Nimba County. Due to the fact that there was no school in his home village, Chief Justice Korkpor began his formative years of education in a nearby village called Kpain where he was sent to live with an aunt.
Besides serving in the judiciary branch for 19 years, former Chief Justice Korkpor began his career at the Ministry of Justice upon his graduation in 1976 with a Bachelor’s Art in Sociology as a research coordinator in the Criminal Rehabilitation Division from where he was granted a scholarship by the US Government to study Criminal Justice at the N. C. Justice Academy at Salemburg, North Carolina, USA, after a year on the job.
Chief Justice Francis S. Korkpor, Sr. returned home in 1978 and subsequently enrolled at the Louis Arthur Grimes School of Law, University of Liberia where he obtained his LLB Degree in 1982.
He was appointed as a prosecuting attorney in 1982, the same year he graduated from the Law School. While serving at the Ministry of Justice, he aggressively prosecuted repeated offenders, violent criminals, and public officials who committed ethical defilements or indecencies. His untiring work as a prosecutor in the Department of Litigation earned him promotion to the posts of Assistant Minister for Economic Affairs in 1985, and Assistant Minister for Legal Affairs in 1988. He served in the latter position until the beginning of the civil war, which forced him to travel to the United States, where he pursued advanced legal education.
Having gained experience in practice as a Counsellor during the early 1980s, Korkpor resigned from government and established the Tiala Law Firm in Monrovia. As a busy private lawyer, Korkpor was a testament to his ability to provide sound legal services to the people of Liberia; especially human rights organizations and journalists who were targets of the erstwhile government of Charles Taylor. He also represented the legal interests of several other organizations like the Catholic Church of Liberia. During the period of private practice, Korkpor established himself as one of Liberia’s foremost legal minds and built partnerships and maintains collegiality within the Liberian National Bar Association (LNBA).
In 2004, during the reign of the National Transitional Government of Liberia, then Counsellor Francis S. Korkpor, Sr. was appointed to the Supreme Court of Liberia as Associate Justice for the period of two years, a position to which he was nominated and subsequently reappointed by Her Excellency, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf upon assuming the Presidency of the Country in 2006.
On April 18, 2013, His Honor Francis S. Korkpor, Sr. was appointed Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Liberia, a position he held until his retirement on September 27, 2022.