In Defense of J. Fonati Koffa
(A Letter)

By Samuel Zohnjaty Joe

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

February 27, 2004

Dear Mr. Editor,

Kindly publish on my behalf a rebuttal to Mr. Ahmed K. Sirleaf II’s article “A Lawyer’s Ethical Platitude” published in the February 23, 20004 edition of The Perspective. In that article, the author writes, “to have a place in the study, and practice of the law is not by wisdom only, but by the sacred virtues of human dignity, and character...” He emphasized character as the landmark for the practice of law. The conclusion he gathers from Justice Benjamin Nathan Cardozo’s theory is that Mr. Koffa is already guilty and has violated the ethical standards of the American Bar Association based on what he considers in his mind that constitutes evidence.

It seems that Mr. Sirleaf is convinced that Mr. Koffa is guilty of those crimes. Let’s view one of his arguments; “today, not only has counselor Koffa put his own legal career into serious jeopardy, as a result of his alleged anti-ethical practices, but he has also brought shame, embarrassment, disappointment, and disrepute to his fellow compatriots who are in and/or seek similar line of career”. Even though he may argue that he is using the word “alleged”, this statement concludes that Mr. Koffa brought shame, embarrassment, disappointment, and disrepute to his fellow Liberians like him who is in and/or aspires in similar line of career.

While I may agree with Mr. Sirleaf that character serves as a sacred virtue for human dignity, rushing or passing judgment on people without allowing due process to take its course is missteps, laps in judgment, violating the basic principles of the fundamental virtues of the legal system in this country and undermines our character as well.

Having said the above, let’s examine the merit of Mr. Sirleaf’s argument of the ethical issue in this case. Mr. Sirleaf quotes numerous articles of the American Bar Association that he said constitute the violation of the ethical standards. While I do not intent to argue on the merit and demerit of these articles simply because I am not a lawyer, common sense tells me that ethics as I know it, and being a professional/development economist myself, applies when one is found guilty of a particular crime he/she is allegedly accused of.

Mr. Sirleaf would have made sense if he was the prosecutor who is appealing to public opinion before the trial in the court of law. Or unless he is saying that he is playing the devil’s advocate here, but from all indications, his argument suggests that Mr. Koffa is guilty and has brought shame, embarrassment, disappointment and disrepute to the Liberians living in the United States who desire to practice law and. To me, this is more of a disgrace and laps in judgment on the part of Mr. Sirleaf who claims that he knows the law or code of ethics of the ABA than Mr. Koffa who needs his days in court. I am inclined to say so because from what I am reading so far, Mr. Sirleaf bases his judgment on allegation, as he clearly indicated more than hundred times in his article.

I have been following this story on Koffa since Ran Teague Beckwith of the Associated Press broke the story on February 15, 2004 not because Koffa is a particular interest or relative to me. To say the most, Koffa does not know me neither do I know him. However, the fact remains that he is Koffa; somebody that I know is from Liberia, my countryman, who has strived hard enough to climb these high walls and achieve his American dream. It is very sudden to find a professional like Mr. Koffa who has achieved this kind of success to abandon his/her profession in such an environment in search of democracy and peace in a war ravaged country like Liberia. I took particular interest into Mr. Koffa’s case because he is my countryman in whom I owe my respect for his hard work and success. Mr. Koffa’s success here as an attorney at-law is something all Liberians should be proud of. It is sad that he finds himself in such ugly situation.

Every man makes mistakes and that’s part of human. If Mr. Koffa finds himself in such predicament, it is not fun and/or an event that Sirleaf should capitalize on to ridicule him. Koffa is a human being who is prone to mistakes, that is if he commits those crimes as alleged. What he needs now from all his compatriots is not ridicule, but to offer prayers and support for him and his family. In this light, my family and I join other Liberians and relatives of Mr. Koffa, including his wife and children to offer our prayers and we wish him the best of all lucks.

Samuel Zohnjaty Joe