Why Kenyan lawyers are afraid of judge handling Sharon Otieno’s case

Many Kenyan lawyers confess to trembling in the presence of Lady Justice Jessie Wanjiku Lesiit, the no-nonsense judge.

Justice Lesiit has been in the news lately while handling two of Kenya's most high profile court cases this year: The murder of university student Sharon Otieno and businesswoman Monica Kimani.

In both cases, the main suspects including Migori Governor Okoth Obado in the Sharon case and television journalist Jacque Maribe and fiance Jowie Irungu, have all been facing Judge Lesiit alongside their battery of lawyers.

Governor Obado has been in remand at the Industrial Area remand ever since her ruling denied him bail capturing the attention of impunity-prone Kenyans.

And after hearing of bail application on October 12, the no-nonsense judge extended the governor’s stay in remand for 12 more days and he will celebrate Mashujaa Day, not at a power-packed county podium, but at the city remand facility.

Judge Lesiit delegated the murder case facing Jaque and Jowie to Judge James Wakiaga, but her appearance in both and other high profile cases have made her a household name, but unbeknown to many, she is one of the most feared judges in Kenya today.

Lawyers who have appeared before Justice Lesiit confessed that she is as straight as an arrow even when she served as resident Magistrate in Meru before climbing the judicial ladder to the High Court.

According to criminal lawyer Cliff Ombeta, Justice Lesiit is both strict and fair.

“You can’t go to her courtroom unprepared. She is tough but very fair. Even if you have substance, you will have to justify whatever you say in her court. Many lawyers dread her chambers. She understands the law and so you can’t try present half-baked theories in her courtroom,” he told The Nairobian in an earlier interview.

 “She is very tough and straightforward judge, she gives all the sides equal opportunity, in fact, majority of my colleagues fear her,” said another advocate of the High Court who sought anonymity as he's a frequent lawyer in her courtroom. The advocate added that Justice Lesiit "is in the right place because when in court, she is calm, serious and very strict on time, she means business that’s why she has the capacity to handle all kind of cases.”

Even prosecutors have their views and one told The Nairobian that Justice Lesiit is passionate about her job, occasionally tickles her courtroom but prefers leading a reserved life. “She is very private, not many of us know her beyond the courtroom, she weighs all options when making decisions,” said the prosecutor who has worked closely with her.

Some of her high profile cases include the Ruth Kamande murder case in which the beauty queen was implicated in the murder of her boyfriend, Farid Mohammed in September 2015.

Justice Lesiit found that Kamande drew pleasure from stabbing her boyfriend 25 times and was not remorseful, even in court. “I want young people to know that it is not cool to kill each other. If you have an issue with a boyfriend, just walk away and forgive,” said Lesiit and sentenced Ruth Kamande to hang. She said although the Supreme Court held that death sentence is not mandatory, Kamande did not deserve mercy terming the killing as gender-based violence, adding that she was manipulative and controlling.

Last year Lesiit was tasked with overseeing stakeholder conference on implementation of bail and bond policy guidelines due to her experience in the corridors of justice.