Lawyer Accuses Chief Judge Of Enugu Of Misconduct, Abuse Of Office

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lawyer, Peter Nwabunike Eze, has
written a petition to the chairman of the
National Judicial Council (NJC), a body
that disciplines errant judges, accusing
the Judge Chief of Enugu State, I.A.
of various acts of misconduct and abuse of
office.
In the petition, the Abuja-based lawyer detailed
several instances where Justice Umezulike
demonstrated abuse of office by assigning to
himself cases where he had a manifest conflict
of interest.
Dated February 19, 2016, Mr. Eze’s petition
drew attention to two previous complaints,
dated October and December 2014, which he
had addressed to the NJC on Justice
Umezulike’s misconduct. He remarked that he
was taken aback when the disciplinary body
wrote him back to the effect that the Chief
Judge had offered a satisfactory explanation on
the allegations against him.
The petitioner accused Justice Umezulike and
some senior staff of the Enugu State judiciary
of acting vindictively towards him and his
clients after he questioned the judge’s
acceptance of a donation of N10 million from a
man who was a party in a case before the
judge. Mr. Eze disclosed that the donation was
accepted at a public launch of a book written
by the judge.
Mr. Eze told the NJC that Justice Umezulike had
flouted the council’s directive to transfer
several cases in which the petitioner or lawyers
from his practice are representing clients.
Referring to his previous petitions, Mr. Eze
stated that he “made very grave allegations of
judicial misconduct against Hon. Justice
Umezulike, particularly accepting a gift of
N10,000,000 from a litigant who was a Plaintiff
in a highly contentious matter before him, and
also [altering] a court order, for the purposes
of assisting a judgment creditor to gain
possession of a parcel of land in dispute.”
Mr. Eze stated that Justice Umezulike had
refused or failed to comply with the NJC’s
directive to transfer to other judges any cases
in which the petitioner or his law firm appears
for one of the parties. The petition cited one
case, Federal Republic of Nigeria versus
Professor Martin Aghaji, which was only
transferred to Justice R.O. Odugu in December
2015. However, after the petitioner advised his
client, Mr. Aghaji, to retain a new lawyer,
Chuma Oguejiofor, Justice Uwazulike re-
assigned the case to himself. In the latest
petition, Mr. Eze disclosed that Mr. Oguejiofor
had appeared as counsel for Justice Umezulike
in a suit the petitioner had instituted against
the judge. “I understand that once I was out of
the picture, in defiance of the NJC’s order, Hon.
Justice Umezulike transferred the matter back
to his court and called it up on 16/2/2016,” Mr.
Eze stated.
The petition also buttressed Justice Umezulike’s
misconduct by citing the judge’s handling of a
lawsuit between one George Ajogwu, who
alleged that he had been seriously sickened
after drinking a bottle of Sprite that contained
a slimy substance. Mr. Eze, who represented
the defendants, the Nigerian Bottling Company
Plc., told the NJC that his fears about Justice
Umezulike’s bias “came to light” in the suit
between Ajogwu and Nigerian Bottling Co. Plc.
He stated that the plaintiff’s claim that the
Sprite “turned him into a vegetable and also
caused him to lose three years in the
University” was not validated by any laboratory
tests of the “on the contents of the bottle of
Sprite nor did the Plaintiff tender any
laboratory test results of his blood, stool or
stomach contents.” Even so, he stated that
Justice Uwazulike awarded questionable costs
against his clients and, in a final judgment
delivered on March 9, 2015, “awarded the
Plaintiff N50 million general damages stating
that there was no need for a laboratory test of
the contents of the Bottle of Sprite to be
carried out.” He added that the Chief Judge
contrived to enable the plaintiff to commence
“garnishee proceedings” even though the
Nigerian Bottling Company Plc. had filed both a
motion for stay of execution and an appeal
against Justice Uwazulike’s verdict at the Court
of Appeal. The petitioner stated that the
garnishee proceedings were eventually struck
out, but again with costs of N50,000 against his
client. “No explanation was given for this
judicial anomaly where a court struck out a
plaintiff’s application, and still awarded punitive
costs against the defendant,” Mr. Eze stated.
The petition against Justice Uwazulike also
accused the judge of ordering Mr. Eze’s arrest
in a dispute that arose over the will he had had
prepared for a deceased client, Anosike Paul
Chidebe Iloabachie. According to Mr. Eze, a
lawsuit filed by a member of his client’s family
before one Justice Okereke was curiously
transferred to Justice Umezulike’s court. He
said that the counsel representing the widow of
the deceased filed an ex parte application for
an order that he appear in court “to be
examined as a person said to be in possession
of the last will of the deceased.” Even though
the plaintiff counsel subsequently filed a notice
to discontinue the case on March 4, 2015,
Justice Umezulike ruled that “there had been
no valid discontinuance of the suit and stated
that the Plaintiff must proceed with the suit.”
The plaintiff appealed against the order and
filed a motion to stay proceedings pending the
appeal. On his part, Mr. Eze retained a lawyer
to “apply to set aside the order summoning me
to court.” Not only did Justice Umezulike deny
the motion, he “ordered the Commissioner of
Police, Enugu State, to arrest me and produce
me in court on the next adjourned date.”
In his petition, Mr. Eze stated that the judge’s
order was “in bad faith and was a gross abuse
of judicial power and my fundamental rights,”
adding that it was “meant to intimidate me and
cower me for complaining about the earlier
misconduct of Justice Umezulike.” He noted
that, even if Justice Umezulike’s dismissal of his
motion was right, the recourse should have
been to give him a new date on which to
appear in court instead of ordering his arrest.
According to him, he had to flee abroad as
police began “invading my house and office to
arrest me.”
He stated that, even after his lawyer filed an
appeal on his behalf and sought a motion for
stay of the order, Justice Umezulike “ignored
the processes and reiterated his order that the
police should arrest me.” The petitioner
disclosed that he had to file a suit at the
Federal High Court, Enugu against Justice
Umezulike and the Commissioner of Police,
Enugu State, in order to enforce his
fundamental rights. He said that, even after he
had obtained an interim injunction from the
Federal High Court, “Justice Umezulike insisted
that I must be arrested, and it was only the
intervention of well meaning persons that have
kept Hon. Justice Umezulike from arresting
me.” He disclosed that the case was still
pending before Justice Umezulike, adjourned
to March 13, 2016.
Mr. Eze’s petition also cited a case in which he
represented Diamond Bank, the defendant.
After Justice R.N. Onuorah of the Enugu High
Court had entered a judgment against the Bank
and another defendant for over N500 million,
Mr. Eze applied on behalf of the bank have the
judgment set aside for being procedurally
defective. When Justice Onuorah denied the
application, Mr. Eze appealed the refusal and
demanded that the case be assigned to a new
judge. Justice Onuorah granted the application
and sent the matter to Justice Umezulike for
assignment to a new court.
Instead, Justice Uwazulike not only assigned the
case to himself, he rejected the bank’s
application that the matter be “transferred to
another court on the grounds of a likelihood of
bias on his part.” In dismissing the bank’s
motion asking him to recuse himself, Justice
Umezulike on January 21, 2016 imposed costs
of N50,000 on Diamond Bank and adjourned
the case to January 27, 2016 for hearing. .
Mr. Eze accused the Chief Judge of using a
series of judicial maneuvers to frustrate his
client’s ability to appeal Justice Uwazulike’s
verdict within requisite deadlines.
According to Mr. Eze, Justice Uwazulike did not
only disregard his client’s application for more
time, he also “went ahead to read his ruling
and refused the application for leave to appeal
and awarded costs of N100,000 against the
Bank and once against adjourned to
16thFebruary 2016 for hearing.”
The petitioner wrote: “On 16th February 2016,
when the matter was called up, counsel from
my office representing Diamond Bank Plc.,
informed Hon. Justice Umezulike about the
motion pending in the Court of Appeal. The
court insisted on going on with the suit and
permitted the Plaintiff to call a witness, tender
documents and thereafter adjourned the
matter for address to 26th February 2016.
Counsel from my office of course refused to
participate in the matter.”
Mr. Eze reminded the NJC that the counsel for
the plaintiff in the case, Mr. Chuma Oguejiofor,
“is the same counsel who appeared and
represented Hon. Justice Umezulike in the suit I
filed against Hon. Justice Umezulike in the
Federal High Court, Enugu.”
Mr. Eze insisted that Justice Uwazulike should
recuse himself from the three cases involving
Diamond Bank Plc. pending before his court,
adding that the costs the judge awarded
against the bank “were punitive and were not a
proper exercise of judicial discretion.” He
added: “It is wrong for Hon. Justice Umezulike
to insist on hearing a suit in which counsel who
has represented him as his lawyer in a suit I
filed against him personally, is also counsel for
the Plaintiff.” He also stated that, given “the
previous and existing issues I have had with
Hon. Justice Umezulike, it ought to be clear
that it will be difficult for Diamond Bank to
obtain a fair hearing before his court.”
The petition also informed the NJC that staff of
the Enugu State High Court Registry have been
discriminating against him and other lawyers
who practice with him. He stated that, “I have
had problems filing processes in the registry of
the High Court Enugu. While the processes
clerks can assess and deal with processes filed
by other lawyers, processes from my office
must be dealt with and assessed only by the
Director of Civil Litigation, Mr. Vin Aneke.
“Once Mr. Aneke is not in the office we cannot
file processes and most times we have to wait
for hours before he comes.” He said he had
been informed “by the former Chief Registrar
of the court, Mr. Ekoh, and the Process
Registrars, Mr. Benson and Mrs. Ebere, that
this instruction was given by Hon. Justice
Umezulike. We have written several letters to
the Chief Registrar and Hon. Justice Umezulike
complaining about this discriminatory practice
but till date it has continued.”

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