Maraga is the antidote Judiciary needs, colleagues say

Lawyer Isaac Wamaasa in his office in Nakuru. He worked under Justice David Maraga in the same office before the judge was appointed to the High Court. [Photo: Kipsang Joseph/Standard]

The office where Justice David Maraga began his career bears the hallmarks of a hardworking advocate.

Room 21 on the second floor of Pelbar House along Kenyatta Avenue in Nakuru is meticulously planned and still stocked with law books in the shelves.

At the reception hang portraits of former chief justices Kitili Mwendwa, Sir John Ainley, Cecil Miller and Sir Alfred Simson.

This is where the man colleagues in the legal profession have described as humble, hardworking and incorruptible ran a law firm for 20 years before he was appointed a High Court judge in 2003.

Lawyer Isaac Wamaasa not only honed his skills under Mr Maraga but also inherited his office as well as books and furniture when the Chief Justice appointee joined the bench.

"When Maraga was appointed to the High Court, he literally left everything here. This huge office desk was his work station," says Mr Wamaasa.

He says as a lawyer, Maraga worked hard and rarely went out for lunch. He began his legal practice in Nakuru in the 1970s, when he opened a firm that handled conveyance, litigation, criminal and civil cases.

In 1988, he joined forces with Pravin Bowry and formed Bowry, Maraga and Company Advocates. The firm split up in 1999 as Bowry moved to Nairobi. Maraga reverted to his old firm, Maraga and Company Advocates.

"I still don't believe the news. You can't imagine he came from this humble office," Wamaasa says.

"Justice Maraga's appointment will bring public confidence to the Judiciary as he is incorruptible and a team player. He is respected by colleagues and advocates alike."

Lawyer David Mongeri, who worked under Justice Maraga for five years, describes him as an advocate and judge who stands for justice, and an honest person who served his clients diligently.

"He closed his law firm following his appointment to the bench to avoid any possible conflict of interest. This was a remarkable move," he says.

"Justice Maraga is an approachable judge who gives a hearing to litigants and members of the bar at all times," Mongeri says.

"As a Chief Justice, Kenyans will benefit from his openness. He is a thorough lawyer and researcher, and also resourceful. He decided to work as a judge in Nakuru a few years after he left his practice and did his job with distinction."

Mongeri says when Maraga was in Nakuru as a judge, he would disqualify himself from cases involving his previous clients.

"This was a hallmark of integrity because this could have raised questions of conflict of interest. He is also a strict disciplinarian but allowed us to grow and practise law freely. His appointment is a reward for his hard work," he adds.

Others describe him as a down-to-earth lawyer who never drove his car to court during the many years he practised as a lawyer.

Bernard Kariuki, who worked for Maraga as a clerk in 1978, termed his nomination a deserved one.

"I knew Justice Maraga was destined for greatness. He taught us to live within our means and that was greatest lesson I learned from him," he says.

Others describe Maraga as a deeply religious person who never allowed his work to interfere with his Seventh Day Adventist church practices.

Justice David Maraga Kenani was born in Bunyamatuta village in present day Nyamira County 64 years ago.

A father of three, one boy and two girls, Maraga, who has been in charge of the Judicial Working Committee on Elections, is currently the Presiding Judge of the Court of Appeal in Kisumu County.

He was among the 11 judges shortlisted by the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) and the third to be interviewed for the position of Chief Justice.

The soft-spoken judge, who has been in charge of various judicial commissions, will make history as the first person from Gusii land to be Kenya's CJ if Parliament approves him.

Maraga was appointed to the High Court in October 2003 and elevated to the Court of Appeal in December 2011.

The holder of both an LL.B and an LL.M from the University of Nairobi also chairs the Judiciary Committee on Elections tasked with overseeing hearings of election petitions.

With more than 25 years in active private practice covering criminal and civil litigation as well as conveyance, Maraga has served the last five years as an appellate judge and eight as a High Court judge.

Meanwhile, there was song and dance in Bosose Village, Nyamira County, as news of Maraga's appointment did the rounds.

"Ever since he told us he was going to seek the job of Chief Justice, we have been on our knees praying and fasting for his success. God has answered our prayers," said Jane Bochaberi, Maraga's sister.

Paul Nyakundi, Maraga's 80-year-old cousin, said the judge was obedient and God-fearing, and always participated in church activities.

"Throughout his career, Maraga has distinguished himself as a diligent, God-fearing, dedicated and resolute worker in the Judiciary," said Kisii Governor James Ongwae.

-Reporting by Luke Anami, Patrick Kibet and Paul Ogemba