From hero to villain: Best Lands court judge in 2020 faces the axe

Justice Mohammed Kullow. [File, Standard]

Sometime in September 2020, the Judiciary posted Justice Mohammed Kullow’s photograph on the X platform (formerly Twitter).

This was after the Environment and Lands Court, which he was heading, emerged as the best in clearing cases.

A year later, a petition was filed seeking his removal from office over alleged failure to deliver rulings in time.

And now, the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) has sent four petitions to President William Ruto in support of the judge’s removal from office.

The Chief Justice Martha Koome-led commission sent its own petition alongside three others from Kenyans who want the judge out.

They want the president to appoint a tribunal for the removal of the judge. Central to the four petitions are 116 pending rulings that the judge did not deliver.

JSC received a total of five petitions against the judge. Out of the lot, two did not meet the threshold and were dropped.

On the other hand, the commission had also initiated its own investigations on Justice Kullow.

The judge now faces allegations of gross misconduct, incompetence and violation of the JSC code of conduct.

“Commission was satisfied that three out of the five petitions as well as the proceedings at the commission’s own motion had disclosed grounds for the removal of Hon. Justice Kullow from office over gross misconduct, incompetence and violation of the Judicial Service Code of Conduct. Two petitions were dismissed for failure to disclose sufficient grounds for removal,” said JSC in a statement sent to media houses yesterday.

One of the cases was filed by Mara Rafiki Camp director Uwe Herdees.

Herdees filed the petition after the judge ordered the demolition of the camp said to be worth Sh221 million on December 17, 2017. He accused the judge of abuse of power as another court was handling the same dispute, involving the same parties.

The commission tasked Macharia Njeru (outgoing Law Society of Kenya male representative), Justice David Majanja, Olive Mugenda and Felix Koskei to hear the petitions.

The four-member JSC committee heard Herdees and one other witness and reported back to the full plenary about its findings.

In his petition, Herdees argued that the judge ought to have either sent the file to the other judge who was handling the same case or just struck it out.

In his response,  Justice Kullow said the case registered as Narok ELC No. 202 of 2017 was initially filed in Nakuru as ELC No. 68 of 2013 but was later transferred to Narok and allocated the new number.

He stated that the case was slated to be heard on June 12, 2017, but the plaintiff’s lawyer sought to withdraw the same.

However, the contention was the cost of the case.

The parties agreed to have the case mentioned on July 11, 2017, to record as a settlement but on that day, the stalemate was still persisting.

“Though I had set to deliver my ruling in the matter on July 25, 2017, the ruling was not ready and I told the parties that I was over-ambitious when I gave the date as I got overwhelmed with work hence the ruling was not ready,” replied Justice Kullow.

He also said that although he finally wrote the ruling, the file was allegedly misplaced. According to him, the ruling remained in the file undelivered since no party brought it to his attention about it.

He claimed that he delivered the ruling on September 27, 2018.

According to him, when he delivered the ruling, he thought that the deputy registrar had notified the parties. The judge asserted that at the time he was handling the file in Narok, he had not been notified about the other file in Nakuru.

Meanwhile, the commission has fired Principal Magistrate Patrick Wambugu for gross misconduct.

Wambugu was accused of irregularly altering the bond granted to a sex pest who had defiled a six-year-old girl.