Judge must accept a decent exit plan

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The impeachment of Court of Appeal president Justice Michael Ramodibedi moved an inch closer after the government initiated proceedings against the apex court judge this week.

Three South African judges have already been approached to deal with the case.

They were expected to be sworn in by King Letsie III this week.

The impeachment of the judge, on allegations that he has brought the judiciary into disrepute through various alleged acts of misdemeanour, is unprecedented in the history of the judiciary in Lesotho.

This is the first time that a sitting judge is facing ouster for alleged acts of wrong-doing.

If Justice Ramodibedi is to salvage his reputation he faces two simple choices – to surrender and walk away with his reputation intact or face humiliation during the impeachment proceedings.

We hope he chooses the former.

The mere fact that the judge is now likely to be dragged to the tribunal is enough to tarnish what has been an illustrious career in the judiciary.

His impeccable reputation as a judge is now likely to be soiled.

Justice Ramodibedi faces the risk of having the unwanted tag of a judge who was hounded out of office. That would be sad.

Although Justice Ramodibedi is vehemently denying charges of bringing the judiciary into disrepute through his fight with his nemesis, former chief justice Mahapela Lehohla, who retired this month, it would appear that the odds are heavily staked against him.

The government has accused Justice Ramodibedi of serious misconduct when he allegedly paid himself and other
Court of Appeal judges unauthorised allowances and benefits.

The judge has denied any wrong-doing claiming he had a right to get payment for his services.

The government also claims that Justice Ramodibedi’s fight with Justice Lehohla brought the judiciary into disrepute.

But perhaps much more damaging are allegations that he influenced his driver to make a false accident report in January 2010 to cover up for his son.

The government is also not happy with the judge’s conduct in Swaziland where he is the Chief Justice.

The government says the judge’s allegiance to the Constitution of Swaziland while also pledging allegiance to Lesotho is incompatible more so because “Swaziland is an absolute monarchy where there is no separation of powers”.

On the basis of these allegations it is clear that Justice Ramodibedi is facing a mountain to climb.

It is clear that either way the government is determined to get him out by hook or crook.

The judge’s options appear quite limited.

It would be a great humiliation if the tribunal to be appointed by the King were to find out that Justice Ramodibedi is no longer fit for office.

It is on that basis that we think it is in the judge’s interest to seek a “cease-fire” with the government and negotiate a decent exit that leaves his reputation intact.

We are confident that the government does not wish to embarrass the judge.

They must push for a softer exit for the judge without humiliating him. He must be allowed to slip out quietly.

There surely should be a way to negotiate behind the scenes to reach an amicable solution that is acceptable to both sides.

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