Denver Bar Association
March 2001
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Help Boat Books to Liberia

by Diane Hartman

One attorney’s quest to gather supplies and aid law and order in West Africa.

Look up Liberia on the Internet and on one site you’ll find a note that says "no recent history."

This West African country has gone through a devastating civil war. Since the 1980s, it’s estimated that 200,000 people, most of them civilians, have been killed. The infrastructure of the country is gone, and the people are struggling.

Gerald Padmore (partner at Cox Padmore Skolnik & Shararchy), who lived in Liberia until he was 11 and remembers it as a ". . . peaceful, wonderful place to grow up," is very concerned about Liberia and wants to do something to help.

He thinks back to when he was a small boy—few houses had running water, and electricity was "sporadic." "We were poor by American standards." After all the progress the country had made over the years, once again there is no running water and little electricity.

"The war led to a breakdown of law and order. They’re struggling to get back to that. The rule of the gun controlled people during the war years."

Padmore explained that Liberia was founded in 1820 by African-Americans, some of them freed slaves, who "felt there would never be the changes in the U.S. to allow them equality as Americans and, therefore, they would return to the land of their ancestors." He said, "they were Americans with no experience of Africa and took American values with them to Liberia. They tried to set up a small American-style society over there, based on Christianity and an American-style constitution."

Even with peaceful memories, he now knows there were social problems all along—discrepancies in income, an upper and lower class, and a long-standing cultural clash between the descendants of the Americans and the indigenous Africans who already lived there. Despite partly successful efforts to forge unity, those tensions eventually led to armed strife. In 1980, there was a military takeover. That military coup began a cycle of violence that in the end set several of Liberia’s over-15 ethnic groups against one another. In 1990, "all those ethnic conflicts, and differences and ambitions erupted in a civil war that began as a widely supported effort to overthrow the corrupt military government. Later, it became a power struggle among competing armies that dragged on with horrendous destruction of life and property."

In 1997, an open election was held and a president chosen. Even though his beginnings are not considered totally successful (he announced that his first year had been a failure), still there’s a sense that a window of opportunity has opened for Liberians. If the infrastructure can be rebuilt, basic services to the people can be re-installed and the legal and judicial system shored up—the difficult task of bringing a country to life again can begin.

Padmore believes that a way the legal community can help is to send over legal materials. "Earlier this year, I sent a full set of American Jurisprudence, updated through 1997, to the Liberian Supreme Court. That may seem old to us, but when I was there recently, the only available set I saw had been updated to about 15 years ago. They can still use them." Judges, lawyers and law students all suffer from a lack of legal materials. "There is the strong belief among many Liberians that only the re-establishment of the rule of law will save their country from sliding into war and violence."

About two years ago, the ABA, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Justice, sent over a boatload of materials. "They were shipped by Firestone, which still has a natural rubber plantation there."

Padmore invites anyone who can to call him with donations of "a variety of law books, reference books, some U.S. Reporters and hornbook research materials." Colorado law books would be too specific, he said, but "contract law, criminal law or commercial transactions would be welcome. I think I could arrange for someone like Firestone to ship them over and make deliveries to the law school or the Liberian Supreme Court.

"We could help to restore the rule of law in that country that has suffered so much."

Padmore has been to Liberia twice in the last year; he still has clients who have interests there. Two of his daughters have visited also and he said he thought they were shocked at the conditions. "It really was sobering for them and made them appreciate this country."

Padmore’s father was once a Liberian ambassador to the U.S.

"We came over in 1956. I had read about the United States. It was my first time on an airplane. We landed in New York on St. Patrick’s Day. It had snowed and that was the first time I had seen snow. We took a train (my first train) to Washington. I thought it was all wonderful. After a while, I realized that even though the kids I was going to school with in Washington spoke differently and looked different, they were really just like the kids back home. That was the first important lesson I learned."

When his father returned to Liberia, Padmore went to boarding school in the U.S., then to Yale and Harvard Law. After law school, he returned to Liberia and lived there for 10 years, teaching at the law school, working for the government and practicing law in Liberia and West Africa. He then returned to the U.S. and moved to Denver in 1980. He has made many trips back on business.

If you have donations of books or other legal materials, please call Padmore at (303) 839-9191 or e-mail him at padmore@cpsslaw.com.


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