Judge Refuses to Attend Taylor Lawyer’s Disciplinary Hearing

Judge Refuses to Attend Taylor Lawyer’s Disciplinary Hearing

Here’s something you don’t see every day:

A disciplinary hearing for the chief defence lawyer for former Liberian President Charles Taylor was adjourned indefinitely Friday after just seven minutes because one judge refused to attend.

The hearing by the Special Court for Sierra Leone was to weigh possible punishment for British lawyer Courtenay Griffiths after he stormed out of Taylor’s war crimes trial two weeks ago to protest the court’s rejection of his written summary, which was filed late.

Griffiths appeared Friday, represented by Peter Robinson, the American legal adviser to former Bosnian Serb President Radovan Karadzic.

But Ugandan judge Julia Sebutinde did not attend.

Presiding Judge Teresa Doherty read a brief statement in which Sebutinde said she decided to stay away because she disagreed with the court’s move to discipline Griffiths.

Doherty adjourned the hearing indefinitely, saying all three judges needed to be present.

I’m not sure it’s particularly ethical for Judge Sebutinde to boycott a hearing with which she disagrees — but it’s difficult to understand why the tribunal demanded the hearing in the first place, given her opposition.  Indeed, the tribunal should have simply accepted the final brief; rejecting it for being less than three weeks later after a nearly four-year trial makes no sense.  (According to the defence, the brief was late because it was waiting for the tribunal to rule on a number of outstanding motions.)  Admonishing defence counsel would have been more than enough.

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Kevin, I agree that the brief should have been accepted in the interests of justice.  However, I also think that sanctions should be imposed on any counsel – prosecution or defence – who knowingly disobeys a scheduling order without good cause.  I’m sure that counsel in this instance would argue that there was good cause; however, such behaviour by an experienced lawyer sets a dangerous precedent which, without proper investigation and the application of sanctions if deemed appropriate, may encourage lawyers / self-represented accused in other cases to manipulate proceedings in a similar manner. 

I also think that Judge Sebutinde’s behaviour amounts to serious judicial misconduct.  It’s common in any trial involving multiple judges for one member to dissent on particular issues during the course of proceedings. It’s completely improper for a dissenting judge to respond by refusing to participate any further in that particular aspect of proceedings.  Instead,  the more appropriate course of action would have been for Judge Sebutinde to attend the relevant hearing, register her dissent on the record and let the appeals process take its course.