Opuni fails in attempt to change judge

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Dr Stephen Kwabena Opuni

An attempt by counsel for Dr Stephen Kwabena Opuni, the embattled former Chief Executive Officer of the Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD), to compel the trial judge hearing his case to recuse himself has failed.

Samuel Codjoe, counsel for Dr Opuni, had accused Justice Clemence Honyenuga, a Supreme Court judge hearing the case as an additional High Court judge, of bias.

An application filed by Mr Cudjoe on behalf of Dr Opun read in part: “I state that the learned judge, having stated in open court that he was in a hurry to hear the case, such that he refused to give me an additional four days to enable me adequately prepare for the case, it has become clear to me that I would not be given adequate time and facilities to prepare my defence as stipulated by Article 19(2) (e) and (g) of the 1992 constitution.”

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He therefore wanted the judge to recuse himself from the case over the comments he allegedly made in open court, and stated same in his ruling on a submission of no case application filed by Dr Opuni.

According to Dr Opuni, comments by the judge suggested that he was in a haste to finish with the case, saying that could thwart the discharge of justice.

This was the second application filed by Dr Opuni against the judge.

In March 2020, a similar application was filed on grounds that the trial judge, who is also a chief, had openly campaigned for President Akufo-Addo during the President’s visit to the Volta Region, ahead of the 2020 general election.

The application was dismissed by the judge who contended that he was taken aback by the decision by Dr Opuni to politicise the trial.

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Application

Dr Opuni and businessman Seidu Agongo are standing trial for allegedly causing financial loss of GH₵271.3 million to the state, among other charges.

In the recent application, Dr Opuni again accused the judge of bias, arguing that he might not be given adequate time to defend himself before the court and would not get a fair trial.

Dr Opuni lamented how the court, after dismissing his submission of no case last month, adjourned hearing to only 10 days for him to open his defence. This was in spite of the two weeks (14 days) requested by his lawyer to adequately prepare him (Dr. Opuni), considering the volume of documents that were tendered by the prosecution.

Chief State Attorney Evelyn Keelson, who is leading prosecution, asked the court to dismiss the application, insisting that it had no merit whatsoever.

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She recounted how the court had, on countless occasions, ordered the state to make available various documents since the commencement of the trial.

According to her, the 10 days given Dr Opuni by the court was enough, and not contrary to any known law.

Ms Keelson averred that even as of yesterday, when oral arguments on the application was taking place, Dr Opuni was still yet to open his defence, even though it had been 24 days since the court ordered him to do so.

Justice Honyenuga, in dismissing the application, held that a case of bias meriting his recusal had not been established, arguing that the application was brought in bad faith.

He accordingly dismissed the motion, and adjourned the trial to June 18 for the accused persons to open their defence.

 

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