Johnnie Lewis

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Johnnie N. Lewis
18th Chief Justice of Liberia
In office
March 3, 2006 – September 10, 2012
Nominated by Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
Preceded by Henry Reed Cooper
Succeeded by Francis Korkpor
Personal details
Born (1946-04-16)April 16, 1946
Greenville, Sinoe County, Liberia
Died January 21, 2015(2015-01-21) (aged 68)
United States
Alma mater University of Liberia
L.A. Grimes School of Law
Yale Law School

Johnnie N. Lewis (April 16, 1946 – January 21, 2015) was a Liberian lawyer and politician. A native of Sinoe County, Lewis was educated at the University of Liberia in Monrovia and at Yale Law School in the United States. He was the 18th Chief Justice of Liberia, serving from 2006 to 2012. Before his appointment to the Supreme Court, he served as a judge in Liberia's circuit court system.

Early life

Johnnie N. Lewis was born to Roderick N. Lewis and Mary Houston-Lewis in Greenville, Sinoe County, Liberia on April 16, 1946.[1][2] His father was a lawyer while his mother was a school teacher in a family with four boys and two girls.[1] He earned an education at St. Joseph's Catholic Elementary School followed by Sinoe High School.[1]

For college he attended the University of Liberia in Monrovia where he earned a bachelor of arts degree, followed by a bachelor of laws degree from the university's Louis Arthur Grimes School of Law.[3] Graduating in 1969, he earned cum laude honors from the law school and was editor of the Liberian Law Journal.[2][3] Lewis was admitted to the country's bar association that year before moving to the United States to continue his legal education. He graduated from Yale Law School in 1971 with a masters in law degree.[3]

Legal career

Lewis returned to Liberia where he was admitted to practice before the Supreme Court of Liberia in 1971 and began teaching at his former law school.[3] In 1975, he was appointed to the Third Judicial Circuit Court in his home county by Liberian President William R. Tolbert, Jr., replacing his deceased father.[1] In 1980, the government was overthrown and he left the judiciary.[1] Lewis returned to the Louis Arthur Grimes School of Law in 1984 and served as dean of the school until 1991.[3] That year he also assisted with the transitional government as legal adviser to the president of the interim government.[1]

In private practice in Monrovia, Lewis was once a partner in the Lewis & Lewis Law Offices.[1] While living in that city his home was invaded by gunmen search for him, and though he escaped, a nephew was killed for failing to tell these men his uncle's whereabouts.[1] Lewis then spent 1993 to 2003 outside of Liberia, working mainly with the United Nations.[3] Employment with that agency led him to Bosnia and Somalia.[3] He has also written two law textbooks, one on criminal law in Liberia and the other on wills and estates.[1]

In 2006, the Liberian Bar Association recommended Lewis be nominated by Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to serve as the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Liberia.[3] President Johnson-Sirleaf then nominated him in February and he was confirmed by the Liberian Senate on March 2, 2006.[3] Lewis was commissioned as the new Chief Justice on March 3.[4] Upon taking office, he vowed to fight corruption that had plagued the judicial branch in the country.[5]

The Lewis court

Chief Justice Lewis fired 34 judges in Sinoe County in April 2006 after they failed to report to their assigned courts.[6] In July 2006, the car Lewis was riding in to the funeral of former justice Emmanuel Wureh hit and killed a pedestrian who was jaywalking.[7] The car was driven by a court employee and was speeding at the time of the accident in an attempt to catch up with the funeral procession.[7] An angry mob surrounded the vehicle and Lewis and the other passengers had to be rescued by the Liberian National Police.[7]

In a 3-2 decision with Lewis voting in the majority, the court declared the removal of House Speaker Edwin Snowe by the National Legislature was illegal and ordered his reinstatement.[8][9] The ruling in January 2007 also invalidated other actions of the legislature including a resolution to allow the Legislature to meet at the Unity Conference Center in Virginia while the Capitol Building in Monrovia was being remodeled.[8] This decision created a rift between some members of the legislature, President Johnson-Sirleaf, and the Supreme Court.[8] In August 2007, the court allowed a criminal prosecution for corruption against former leader Gyude Bryant to proceed in the lower courts.[10]

In October 2007, the Chief Justice accused newspapers in the country of deliberately misspelling his name and using pictures of him inappropriately.[11] He threatened to jail the editors and writers if the practice continued for contempt of court.[11] In January 2008, the court affirmed the national government's decision not to hold municipal elections due to budgetary constraints and allowed the President of Liberia to appoint mayors.[12] The court determined that once money was available, the government must hold the elections, which had not been held since 1985.[12] He resigned from the court in September 2012 citing health issues, with September 10 as his last day in office.[13]

Lewis died in the United States in January 2015, while undergoing medical treatment.[14]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Cllr. Johnny Lewis For Chief Justice Of Liberia: New Gavel In A New Democracy - A Profile. Running Africa, February 19, 2006, The African Media Network.
  2. ^ a b "Chief Justice Johnnie N. Lewis". Biographies of Justices. Supreme Court of Liberia. Retrieved July 24, 2011.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i The Inquirer. Liberia; Who is the New Chief Justice-Designate? Africa News, February 21, 2006.
  4. ^ The Analyst. "Liberia; Pres. Sirleaf Commissions Chief Justice, Associate", Africa News, March 3, 2006.
  5. ^ The NEWS. "Liberia; Transforming the Judiciary", Africa News, March 16, 2006.
  6. ^ The Inquirer. "Liberia; PAP, MOPAR Take Issue With Chief Justice, Others", Africa News, May 19, 2006.
  7. ^ a b c The NEWS. "Liberia; Police Rescue Chief Justice From Mob", Africa News, July 13, 2006.
  8. ^ a b c The Analyst. "Liberia; President Delivers Address Without Key Gov't Officials", Africa News, January 30, 2007.
  9. ^ Borteh, George J. "Supreme Court Rules Against Majority Bloc", The Analyst Newspaper, January 30, 2007.
  10. ^ “Liberia's Supreme Court endorses ex-leader's trial” Archived May 20, 2011, at the Wayback Machine, Africa News, August 27, 2007.
  11. ^ a b Media Foundation for West Africa. "Liberia: Chief justice threatens newspaper journalists", BBC Monitoring World Media, October 24, 2007. British Broadcasting Corporation.
  12. ^ a b “Liberia Cannot Afford Local Polls”, The Analyst Newspaper, January 16, 2008.
  13. ^ Butty, James (September 7, 2012). "Citing Poor Health, Liberia's Chief Justice Steps Down". Voice of America. Retrieved September 24, 2012.
  14. ^ "Former Chief Justice Johnnie Lewis Is Dead - The Inquirer Newspaper". The Inquirer Newspaper. January 22, 2015. Retrieved December 20, 2017.

External links

  • Official court biography
Legal offices
Preceded by
Henry Reed Cooper
Chief Justice of Liberia
Francis Korkpor
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