Former Liberia's Chief Justice, Johnnie Lewis, regarded as one of the country’s greatest legal mind is dead. Family sources say, the former Chief Justice was being rushed to the hospital Wednesday afternoon when he died. He was 69.
Chief Justice Lewis, who had been ailing for some time, now is remembered for bringing prestige and honor to the Lewis Arthur Grimes School of Law at the University of Liberia.
“Johnnie Lewis was one of Liberia’s 21st century best legal jurist who was very competent and smart, recalls Cllr. Pearl Brown Bull, a who was appointed by the former Chief Justice to head the Grievance and Ethics Committee that investigates the unethical behaviors of lawyers.
Added Cllr. Bull: “I knew him when he was at the law school. He became one of the youngest civil law judge, he was smart, well respected and did not compromise. He was one of those I really admired on the bench. It is unfortunate that he had to be retired. But Liberia has lost one of the 21st century best legal luminaries.”
Cllr. Bull said there are few people like the late Chief Justice who understands the law today. “I was so happy to serve under him, he had dignity. The last Chief Justice came from a family noted in history for making immense contributions to Liberia. His late, great grandfather, J. N. Lewis, was a signatory to the declaration of independence and Suzannah Lewis, one of the designers of the flag of Liberia, was a great grand relative.
Lewis, the 18th Chief Justice of Liberia was born April 16, 1946 to the union of Roderick N. Lewis, a lawyer, and Mary Houston-Lewis, a teacher in Greenville, Sinoe County. He was educated at the University of Liberia and at Yale Law School in the United States. He served as Chief Justice from 2006 to 2012. Before his appointment to the high court, he served as a judge in Liberia’s circuit court system.
He earned an education at St. Joseph's Catholic Elementary School followed by Sinoe High School. He earned a bachelor’s of Arts degree at the University of Liberia, and by a bachelor of laws degree from the Louis Arthur Grimes School of Law in 1969 earning cum laude honors from the law school and was editor of the Liberian Law Journal.
Upon his graduation from Yale, 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. In 1975, Lewis was appointed to the Third Judicial Circuit Court by President William R. Tolbert, replacing his deceased father.
Following the 1980 coup which ended decades of Americo-Liberian rule,Lewis left the judiciary and returned to the Louis Arthur Grimes School of Law in 1984 to serve as Dean of the Law School until 1991 when he was called to assist with the Liberian transitional government as legal adviser to the President of the interim government.
In private practice in Monrovia, Lewis was once a partner in the Lewis & Lewis Law Offices. Lewis spent 1993 to 2003 outside of Liberia, working mainly with the United Nations, serving in hotspots Bosnia and Somalia. He has also written two law textbooks, one on criminal law in Liberia and the other on wills and estates.
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 and the President obliged, nominating Lewis who was confirmed by the Liberian Senate on March 2, 2006.
Known as a no-nonsense judge, Lewis in April 2006, fired 34 judges in his hometown, Sinoe County after they failed to report to their assigned courts. Lewis resigned from the court in September 2012 citing health issues, with September 10 as his last day in office. Lewis, 66 at the time, in a letter dated August 28, 2012, requested early retirement from the position. He would have been officially retired had he reached the age of 70 years as enshrined in the Constitution.
The Executive Mansion at the time stated that the Chief Justice’s request was predicated upon the need for him to seek medical attention. His retirement becomes effective on Monday, September 10, 2012.