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Johnnie N. Lewis: A mentor of Liberian judiciary

Sorbor George/Joseph T. Koon
 Former Chief Justice of Liberia, His Honor, Johnnie N. Lewis
Former Chief Justice of Liberia, His Honor, Johnnie N. Lewis

It is inevitable in the history of mankind that when a child is born, such occasion is usually characterized by joy and enthusiasm from individuals whose union is being blessed by our Omnipotent Creator. On the other hand, at sunset, such event is also marked by unhappy moments, sorrows and distress.

My God! When the death news of former Chief Justice of Liberia, His Honor, Johnnie N. Lewis, was announced in Monrovia, scores of Liberians, especially those from the legal spectrum of Liberia, became shocked and seemingly agonized for the irreparable loss sustained.

As a consequence of this, and consistent with its political culture, the Liberian government, has already paid tribute to the late Justice Lewis for his dedicated services to the Government and people of Liberia.

As Liberians celebrate the mournful event and home going of a great son, public servant and true patriot, let it be known on the pages of Liberian history that the 18th Liberia’s Chief Justice deserves an undisputed praises from the Liberian people now and forever for the job well done while alive.

The late Justice Johnnie N. Lewis was born April 16, 1946 unto the union of Roderick N. Lewis and Mary Houston-Lewis in Greenville, Sinoe County. His father was a lawyer whiles his mother was a school teacher in a family with four boys and two girls. He was a Liberian lawyer and politician. A native of Sinoe County, Lewis was educated at the University of Liberia and at Yale Law School in the United States, respectively.

Before his appointment as Chief Justice, he served as a judge in the Liberia’s circuit court system. He was the 18thChief Justice of Liberia, serving from 2006 to 2012. Justice Lewis earned an education at St. Joseph's Catholic Elementary School followed by Sinoe High School.

He then matriculated to the University of Liberia , where he earned a bachelor of arts degree, after which a bachelor of laws degree from the university’s Louis Arthur Grimes School of Law. He graduated in 1969, with cum laude honors from the law school. He also served as editor of the Liberian Law Journal.

Lewis was admitted to the country’s bar association that year before moving to the United States to continue his legal education. He then graduated from Yale Law School in 1971 with Masters in Law.

Following his studies abroad, the late Johnnie Lewis later returned to home where he was admitted to practice before the Supreme Court of Liberia in 1971 and began teaching at his former law school.

In 1975, he was appointed to the Third Judicial Circuit Court in his home county by former Liberian President, William R. Tolbert, Jr., replacing his deceased father. In 1980, the government was toppled and all became history.

In private practice, the deceased was once a partner in the Lewis & Lewis Law Offices. While living in that city.
While alive, gunmen invaded his home in search of him, but he escaped, a nephew was killed for not telling them his whereabouts.

Lewis then spent 1993 to 2003 outside of Liberia, working mainly with the United Nations.  His employment with that agency led him to Bosnia and Somalia. In 2006, the Liberian Bar Association recommended that Lewis be nominated by Liberian President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, to serve as the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Liberia.

The recommendation yielded fruit.  He was then nominated in February and confirmed by the Liberian Senate March 2, 2006. Justice Lewis was commissioned as the new Chief Justice March 3 the same year. Upon taking office, he vowed to fight corruption that had plagued the judiciary then.

The Late Chief Justice was highly known for being tough; this he manifested in April 20067 after he  fired 34 judges in Sinoe County for failing  to report to their assigned courts.

In October 2007, the Chief Justice accused newspapers in the country of deliberately misspelling his name and using inappropriate pictures of him. He then threatened to jail the editors and writers if the practice continued for contempt of court. This became a debate in street corners and public places.

Whenever he arrived at a scene, Jonny Lewis became an attraction for on-lookers. He resigned from the court in September, 2012.

Finally, in a special statement issued by the Liberian government Thursday, January 22, 2015, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf is quoting as saying:”The dedicated services of the fallen former Chief Justice, His Honor, Johnnie Lewis, will be remembered by the Liberian people as a long serving public servant.”

Indeed, let the legacy of this astute Liberian lawyer and statesman be the hallmark of all legal practitioners in Liberia if we must build a vibrant Judiciary. May his soul rest in peace and light perpetual shine upon him in the bosom of Heaven.


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