Metuh Seeks Transfer Of Case From ‘Classmate’ Judge

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Justice Okon Abang of the Federal High Court, Abuja, who is hearing the case involving the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) spokesman, Olisa Metuh, yesterday vowed to remain on the case pending the decision of his employer.

Metuh had raised sundry accusations against the judge and asked him to withdraw from the case.

The defence counsel, Emeka Etiaba (SAN) wrote to the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Ibrahim Auta, asking him to transfer the case from Abang to another judge.

But Justice Abang said he would not be intimidated, adding that by virtue of the National Judicial Council, NJC’s circular, he would continue with the case until the chief judge takes a decision on Metuh’s petition.

In a March 11 letter to Justice Auta, Metuh through his lawyer, claimed to have been Justice Abang’s classmate at the law school and that they met a few weeks before the trial.

The PDP spokesman, who is standing trial with his firm, Destra Investment Limited, on a seven-count charge of money laundering, accused the judge of bias and giving him no access to records, with the intention of denying him right to appeal.

The judge made the disclosure yesterday while ruling on an application by Metuh’s lawyer, Ifedayo Adedipe (SAN), for adjournment, on the grounds that the lead defence lawyer, Onyechi Ikpeazu (SAN), was unavailable.

Justice Abang said: “On March 16, 2016, at 4 pm, the chief judge forwarded a copy of the letter by Emeka Etiaba (SAN), praying him to transfer this case to another judge, eight witnesses having been called and the no-case application of the defendant dismissed for lack of merit.

“I want to say that I have a circular by my employer, the National Judicial Council (NJC), to the effect that where there is a petition in a matter seeking the transfer of the case to another judge, the judge handling the case shall continue to preside over the matter until a decision is taken by the authority to which the petition was addressed.

“On the account of this circular, I shall continue to preside over this matter until the chief judge takes a decision on Mr. Etiaba’s petition”, Justice Abang said.

The judge, however, expressed surprise that Etiaba failed to give the prosecution a copy of his letter, as required under Rule 30 (5) of the Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners.

He said having refused to serve the prosecution with a copy, Etiaba violated the rules of professional conduct for lawyers.

Justice Abang noted that by not serving the prosecution, Etiaba denied the prosecution the opportunity to react to issues raised in the letter.

“Mr. Etiaba complained in the letter that the record of proceedings was not made available to him. The record of proceedings of about 212 pages have been served on the defence team since two days ago. This is not the only case the court is handling. This court is a busy court.

“And again, Etiaba said the accused is my classmate. I don’t know the accused as my classmate. It is for him to prove that he was my classmate. Assuming the accused was my classmate; that will not change the facts of the case and the law.

“I do not take arbitrary decisions. Whatever decision I take here is in line with the law and my conscience. I fear no evil. I am guided by my conscience, without fear or favour”, the judge said.

Going through the history of the case, the judge noted that most adjournments were at the instance of the defence.

Metuh’s legal team, comprising three senior advocates, including Ikpeazu, Adedipe and Etiaba, developed cold feet and refused to open its defence after the judge dismissed the defendants’ no-case submission for lack of merit on March 9.

The PDP spokesman made a no-case submission after prosecution completed its case after calling eight witnesses, who the defence team cross-examined.

Rather than lead evidence in his defence, Metuh chose instead to make a no-case submission, which the court dismissed on the grounds that the prosecution raised several issues to which he (Metuh) must respond to.

After the judge refused his no-case submission on March 9, Metuh was asked to open his defence and he sought time to enable him prepare his witnesses, prompting the judge to adjourn to yesterday.

Rather than open his defence yesterday, Adedipe, who led the defence team, told the court that the lead lawyer, Ikpeazu, who prepared the defence witnesses, was unavailable.

Adedipe again, sought an adjournment, pledging to conduct defence in the event that Ikpeazu was away, at the next date.

The prosecution lawyer, Sylvanus Tahir, reluctantly agreed to an adjournment following Adedipe’s promise to conduct the defence on the next date even if Ikpeazu was absent.

Justice Abang, therefore, upheld Adedipe’s application and adjourned to March 23.

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