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By Giff Johnson

MAJURO, Marshall Islands (June 17, 1999 - Marshall Islands Journal)---Departing American Chief Justice of the Marshall Islands High Court Daniel Cadra swore in a new American judge Wednesday in the Marshall Islands, as a former chief justice sharply criticized the government's abrupt termination of Cadra's contract.

H. Dee Johnson, a judge with 17 years of experience on the bench in Texas, was given the oath of office by Cadra, whose last day on the job is this Friday. "He has outstanding credentials," Cadra said of Johnson.

But Marshall Islander Witten Philippo, formerly chief justice of the high court and now a senator in the parliament, called the government's removal of Cadra "unlawful." It is "very unfortunate that our government has a history of interfering with the independence of the judiciary," he said in a letter to the editor carried in the Marshall Islands Journal this week.

"It is my belief that any attack on the independence of the judiciary must be vehemently opposed. An independent judiciary is most often the only difference between a democracy and a tyranny."

Cadra was nearing the conclusion of his second two-year contract. He became chief justice following Philippo's resignation in 1996. Last month, Cadra advised the government that when his contract expired in November, he would be taking a new judge post in the Republic of Palau. He provided ample notice to the government, he said, so that it could hire a second replacement judge before he departed. He had been the only judge in the high court for almost a year, until the arrival this week of Johnson whose hiring was intended to supplement, not replace, Cadra.

Shortly after Cadra sent his letter to the government, Justice Minister Hemos Jack replied that the government would accept his "resignation" effective June 18, a move that Philippo called a "mere play at words and is nothing less than an unlawful, unilateral termination." Philippo said a judge can only be removed for high crimes by a two-thirds vote of the parliament and, in view of the highly laudatory comments that Jack made about Cadra in his termination letter, "no grounds for removal exist," Philippo said.

Cadra indicated earlier that he would accept the government's move, which included a promise from the Justice Minister to buy out the remainder of the contract.

During the swearing-in ceremony, new judge Johnson remarked that he was sad that he wouldn't have Chief Justice Cadra around for counsel for long. After taking his oath of office, Johnson proceeded to sign his name in the High Court's Bible, a tradition for judges in the Marshall Islands.

Johnson spoke briefly to the assembled group of lawyers. "I've been a judge since 1982 in both the public and private sector," he said. He called himself a judge who was "problem-solution oriented."

The Marshall Islands Journal, Box 14, Majuro, Marshall Islands 96960 E-mail: Subscriptions (weekly): 1 year US $87.00; international $213.00 (air mail).

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