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General News of Saturday, 21 March 2020

Source: The Herald

Opuni trial judge’s 'partisan' comment lands in Appeals Court


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A former Chief Executive of Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD), Dr. Stephen Kwabena Opuni, is challenging a decision by an Accra High Court judge, Justice Clemence Honyenuga, not to recuse himself from the ongoing trial involving him (Dr. Opuni) and businessman, Seidu Agongo, despite serious allegations of bias raised against the judge.

Justice Honyenuga, a Supreme Court nominee and Deputy Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Godfred Yeboah Dame, have been accused of making political statements at separate functions which Dr. Opuni’s defense team have insisted have compromised the criminal trial.

While the trial Judge openly praised President Akufo-Addo’s policies for the country, Godfred Yeboah Dame specifically mentioned the Opuni case, as part of the Akufo-Addo’s government many cases of corruption identified in the erstwhile Mahama administration which it is dealing with.

“Prosecution has started, and I can allude to four casesof persons closely associated with the Mahama administration. The first is the Opuni trial. We all know, M. Opuni was one person who was used by the Mahama administration in perpetuating wrongdoing. Now there is prosecution of the former COCOBOD CEO, Mr. Opuni. It’s ongoing and it involved various huge sums of money as loses to the state,” the Deputy A-G, had told a group of NPP supporters in London during a Townhall Meeting.

Justice Honyenuga in his capacity as Torgbui Ashui Nyagasi V of the Nyagbo Traditional area showered praises on President Akufo-Addo during his tour of Volta and Oti regions saying “…we wish to congratulate you for the excellent manner you are governing this dear country of ours, it is our hope that with your vision and the gains made in your first term, Ghanaians may consider giving you another four years”.

Dr. Opuni’ lawyers, insist these statements compromises the criminal case, especially having the trial judge praising President Akufo-Addo, saying it was an endorsement in support of his re-election, contrary to the Code of Conduct for Judges and Magistrates.

But after augments by the three legal teams, including that of Alhaji Agongo; Justice Honyenuga, stated that the claims particularly from Lawyer Samuel Codjoe, Dr. Opuni’s counsel were “mere perceptions and exaggerated to suit the first accused and others”.

Lead Counsel for Dr. Opuni, Samuel Codjoe, raised objections to the judge’s continuous sitting on the case since in his estimation, the supposedly criminal case has metamorphosed into a political one with some NPP bigwigs, including Godfred Dame, backing the re-election bid of the ruling government on the success of this case. This he says makes the judge unfit to continue the trial since his comments seem to align with the aspirations of the NPP.

Justice Honyenuga in his ruling on March 16, 2020, however, dismissed the motion for his recusal describing the motion as incompetent and misconceived.

He further described the allegations of bias against him as “mere perceptions and exaggerated to suit the first accused and others” adding that “the allegations, the alleged comments are non-judicial and will not constitute bias or any other matter”.

But dissatisfied with the ruling of the court, Mr Codjoe on March 19, 2020, told the court that they had filed an appeal against the ruling and followed it with an application for stay of proceedings, filed on March 18, 2020.

Principal State Attorney, Stella Ohene Appiah, in her submission said the mere filing of the motion for stay does not warrant a halt of proceedings as the court had earlier agreed to adjourned dates for counsel for the second and third accused persons to continue cross examination of the third witness. She further bemoaned what she termed the unnecessary delay of the trial due to lengthy cross examinations, praying the court to continue with the business for the day.

But Justice Honyenuga, ruled that the case be adjourned to the date set for hearing the motion for stay of proceedings.

On Monday, Justice Honyenuga, was 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 AninYeboah for another judge to adjudicate, because he had 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 tour, 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 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 capture 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?

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