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Charles Taylor boycotts war crimes trial again

Charles Taylor's lawyer launched a scathing attack Wednesday on judges in the former Liberian President's war crimes trial, accusing them of putting ego ahead of justice in the landmark case.

Courtenay Griffiths spoke outside the courtroom after he and Taylor again boycotted the closing stages of his trial at the Special Court for Sierra Leone because judges rejected Griffith's written summary of the case, which was filed 20 days after the court's deadline.

The summary is a key document setting out the defense side of the case for judges as they consider their verdicts on 11 charges alleging that Taylor supported murderous rebels in Sierra Leone's savage civil war. Taylor has denied all charges.

Prosecutors say Taylor armed and provided crucial logistical backing to the rebels in return for so-called blood diamonds mined by slaves in Sierra Leone. A verdict is expected later this year.

Griffiths, a usually mild-mannered British lawyer, angrily accused the trial judges of punishing Taylor for defying their order to file closing summaries by Jan. 14. He had asked before the deadline for more time and has now sought permission to appeal the rejection.

"It's about simply this — 'you're not running this court Mr. Taylor and we're going to show you who's in charge by rejecting your final brief,'" Griffiths said. "So this is about ego not justice, and I really don't see that this kind of personalized politics has any part to play in a court of law."

Griffiths argues he could not file the 547-page document by the deadline because the court had not at that time ruled on eight defense motions. He said the late filing had not inconvenienced judges.

"What prejudice has this court suffered by us filing our final brief 20 days late?" he said. "How have they suffered?"

Griffiths said the rejection of the final brief has "caused me to question the judicial capacity and independence of a couple of these judges."

He did not name them, but he was referring to Presiding Judge Teresa Doherty of Ireland and Samoan Judge Richard Lussick. The third judge, Julia Sebutinde of Uganda has repeatedly issued dissenting views supporting Taylor's stance.

Judges briefly reopened the trial Wednesday but Taylor remained in his cell several kilometers (miles) away and Griffiths stayed out of the courtroom. Doherty quickly adjourned the case until Friday, but Griffiths told reporters he would not be in court then, either.

"It would be totally illegitimate for us to get involved at this stage until they resolve this issue as to whether or not they're going to accept our final brief," he said.

Griffiths risked being held in contempt of court when he stormed out of court Tuesday after judges refused to accept his written summary.

If he continues his boycott, the trial will likely end Friday. It would only reopen for Griffiths' closing statement if Taylor's appeal against the rejection of the final brief succeeds.

In the appeal document, Griffiths wrote it is "patently unfair for the judges to have before them the prosecution's road map to conviction, without being in a position to critically analyze the sufficiency of the evidence through the assistance of the defense's final brief."

"There is a simple route out of this," Griffiths told reporters, "which is for them to rescind the decision they made wrongly in my view on Monday and receive the final brief so they can peruse it over the next few months and incorporate it in their final judgment."