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General News of Thursday, 19 March 2020

Source: The Herald

Opuni trial judge in hot exchange with lawyer

Justice Clemence Honyenuga, was on Monday caught up in hot exchanges with Dr. Opuni’s lawyer, Samuel Codjoe, while hearing the application to recuse himself and handover the case to Chief Justice Anin Yeboah for another judge to adjudicate, because he has shown political partisanship and bias by actively campaigning for President Akufo-Addo’s re-election.

At a point during the argument, Lawyer Codjoe, who had many times cited the alleged partisan statement by the judge at the durbar of chiefs and people of Golokwati, Afadzato South, during the President’s recent tour of the Oti and Volta regions, questioned how the prosecution, who argued against the recusal, came to the conclusion that the judge, did not endorse the President.

Dr. Opuni’s lawyer, had insisted that the prosecution led by a Chief State Attorney, Evelyn Keelson, should have allowed Justice Honyenuga, to answer for himself in an affidavit per the procedure in such matters, but this got Justice Honyenuga infuriated and burst out to the lawyer “you want me to talk, so that your commentators will go and talk thrash against me?

Lawyer Codjoe, made reference to the judge’s comments at the durbar in his capacity as the Paramount Chief of the Nyagbo Traditional Area with the title Torgbui Ashui Nyagasi V, praising President Akufo-Addo over his Free Senior High School (SHS) policy, One District-One Factory, among others.

The judge’s outburst which changed the mood of the courtroom with people murmuring got Mr Codjoe charging, “my Lord, I can’t take those words from you. I am a lawyer and I don’t have commentators and for you to say this confirm my submission of you being bias”.

Dr. Opuni’s lawyer turned to the court recorders and asked them to captured the statements of the judge, but Justice Honyenuga immediately told them not to do so.

“Please record the judge saying my commentators will spew thrash”, Mr Codjoe demanded from the typists, but Justice Honyenuga, quickly responded “Don’t record anything”.

Samuel Codjoe: my Lord it is our submission that our complain with the third instance that the judge must recuse himself though he might not be a party.Your statement that Ghanaians should give the government another victory in 2020 qualifies for a bias”.

My Lord, in the affidavit in opposition filed by the prosecution, they said you used the phrase, may consider giving the president another four years and that what you said didn’t constitute endorsement. My question is that how did they know what you meant? They should have allowed you to talk and explain what you meant”.

Judge: You want me to talk so that your commentators will go and talk thrash against me?

Samuel Codjoe: my Lord I can’t take those words from you. I am a lawyer and I don’t have commentators and for you to say this confirm my submission of you being bias.

Please record the judge saying my commentators will spew thrash.

Judge: Don’t record anything.

Samuel Codjoe: my Lord enough of the intimidation.

Judge: please wind up and let me move on….

Samuel Codjoe: my Lord are you by this saying I am wasting the courts time?

Mr Nutifafa Nutsukpui, lawyer for businessman, Alhaji Seidu Agongo and Agricult and Johnson Normesinu, one of Dr. Opuni’s lawyers, also came into Justice Honyenuga’s raider during proceedings.

While, Mr Nutsukpui, was taken on for arguing earlier than expected on the need for the recusal during a preliminary objection raised by Dr. Opuni’s lawyers against the judge sitting on a case of bias against him, Justice Honyenuga, also accused Lawyer Johnson Normesinu of staring and giggling at him in a manner he (judge) did not like.

Mr Nutsukpui’s argument was that the judge’s statement at the durbar, appeared partisan and had also appearances of bias per several portions of the Code of Conduct for Judges and Magistrates, obliged the judge’s position and waited for actual application for the recusal.

Lawyer Normesinu, who looked shocked at the judge, wanted some explanation from him, but was told by his senior, Mr Codjoe, to rather apologize for the case to move on.

Justice Honyenuga, had told President Akufo-Addo that his government’s Free SHS policy, was unparalleled speaking at a durbar of chiefs and people in his honour.

“We wish to congratulate you for the excellent manner you are governing this dear country of ours, Ghana, and the significant gains made in the economy in your first term”, adding: “It is true that you have won high admiration, not only in Africa but also in advanced democracies”.

“Your flagship programmes, like the Free Senior High School, Planting for Food and Jobs – which has increased food production and has even led to exports; – One District-One Factory, among others, has (sic) increased food production and has (sic) improved upon the standard of living of many Ghanaians”, Torgbui Ashui Nyagasi V,” said.

“Indeed”, he added: “For special mention is the Free SHS, which has broken boundaries and has greatly bridged the gap between the rich and the poor”, observing: “This programme has also broken the record, which was held by the first President of the Republic of Ghana, Dr Kwame Nkrumah, who gave free education to our brothers and sisters in the northern part of Ghana”.

The chief then praised the President thus: “Your Free SHS programme is unprecedented in the history of Ghana, in a first term, as it covers the whole country”.

“We, in this district, have equally benefitted and we say ‘ayekoo’ to Your Excellency and may God and our ancestors shower their blessings on you, give you longer life and deeper thoughts to move this nation forward”.

“It is our hope that with your vision and the gains made in your first term, Ghanaians may consider giving you another four years”.

But lawyers for the former COCOBOD boss, Dr Opuni, contended that that statement by the judge, even in his capacity as a traditional leader, was a clear indication of his support for President Akufo-Addo’s government, which had brought the criminal case before him for adjudication.

According to them, such a move meant that Justice Honyenuga, had compromised his neutrality and would not be fair to their client, who happened to be an appointee of the erstwhile Mahama-led administration.

Aside a video of the Judge authoring the words at the durbar, Dr. Opuni’s lawyers, also added another video of the Deputy Attorney General, Godfred Yeboah, who at a town hall meeting in London of supporters of the governing NPP, recently had mentioned the Opuni trial as one of cases of corruption the Akufo-Addo government was prosecuting against appointee of the Mahama administration, saying Mr Mahama, had used Dr. Opuni in wrongdoing.

This according to Dr. Opuni’s lawyers, meant the criminal trial has been politicized, but Justice Honyenuga, a Justice of the Court of Appeal, sitting as an additional High Court judge, dismissed the application, saying it was incompetent and misconceived.

Justice Honyenuga held that Dr Opuni failed to prove any legal basis for the application, insisting the comments complained about were non-judicial and, therefore, did not amount to bias.

He said, Dr. Opuni, made numerous allegations in the application which were highly “political, mere perceptions and exaggerations to suit him (Dr Opuni) and others”, adding “the applicant is being tried in the name of the Republic of Ghana and nobody else.”

Another leg of Dr Opuni’s application was for the presiding judge not to hear the application, because it would mean that he (judge) was presiding over his own case and his legal team, therefore, urged Justice Honyenuga to refer the motion to the Chief Justice for him to transfer the motion to another judge.

Justice Honyenuga, however, held that although it was true that he could not sit on his own case, it was also wrong in law for the applicant to have filed the application before him.

According to him, per the rules of court, a case could only be transferred from one court to another by the Chief Justice and, therefore, invoking the jurisdiction of the court to achieve that aim was “misconceived”.

“In the circumstances, the application before me is incompetent and misconceived and is hereby dismissed,” Justice Honyenuga ruled.

Making a case for the application, lead counsel for Dr. Opuni, Mr Codjoe, had argued that Justice Honyenuga, must recuse himself from the trial because he had shown bias by making a statement in support of President Akufo-Addo.

He submitted that bias did not only mean that a judge must be party to a case or show pecuniary interest in a case, but that bias could be established when a judge did something for the benefit of a third party, adding “Calling on Ghanaians to give the President another mandate in the 2020 elections, in our opinion, qualifies under doing something for the benefit of a third party.”

The lawyer for Agongo, Mr Nutsukpui, in his submission, also urged Justice Honyenuga to recuse himself from the trial, adding that per the code of conduct for judges and magistrates, judges must avoid impropriety or any appearance of impropriety in their professional and personal conduct.

Also, he said, per the code of conduct, judges must also refrain from political activity inappropriate to their judicial office, adding “It is our prayer that in these circumstances, and in the interest of the greater good, it may be worthwhile that my Lord will consider the application and hopefully recuse himself.”

In her response, a Chief State Attorney, Evelyn Keelson, urged the court to dismiss the application because the said comments by Justice Honyenuga, had no bearing on Dr Opuni’s trial, neither did it mean Justice Honyenuga, was actively campaigning for President Akufo-Addo.

“How can a statement by a trial judge that Ghanaians may consider voting for a sitting President be translated into bias of an applicant facing criminal charges?” she quipped, and submitted further that Dr. Opuni’s criminal case was not politically motivated, but was as a result of what she described as his conduct as the boss of the COCOBOD.

“This is not a political trial. The applicant has not succeeded in raising a solid foundation for bias,” she argued.

She said for a case of bias to succeed, the applicant must prove real likelihood of bias on the part of the judge and not mere allegations, apprehension or suspicion of bias, insisting the application, was an attempt one by Dr Opuni to deliberately delay the trial.

In March 2018, the A-G charged Dr Opuni and Agongo, who is the CEO of Agricult Ghana Limited, with 27 counts for allegedly engaging in illegalities that caused financial loss of GH¢271.3 million to the state and led to the distribution of sub-standard fertilizer to cocoa farmers.

Agongo is alleged to have used fraudulent means to sell sub-standard fertilizer to COCOBOD for onward distribution to cocoa farmers, while Dr Opuni is accused of facilitating the act by allowing Agongo’s products not to be tested and certified, as required by law.

The two accused persons have pleaded not guilty to all the 27 charges and are currently on bail in the sum of GH¢300,000 each.