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Friday
Nov062009

403. Le droit, c'est moi

From The Slovak Spectator, news of an open letter from 15 judges protesting disciplinary proceedings against one of their number.  Well, of course they don't like it, right?  But this story comes with a twist:

The letter by the 15 judges cites cases of disciplinary proceedings against Judges Anna Benešová, Darina Kuchtová, Milan Ružička and Robert Urban to support their claim that disciplinary proceedings have turned into a tool of intimidation.

“And there are additional ones where it seems that the common denominator is criticism of Supreme Court and Judicial Council head Štefan Harabin,” reads the letter, as quoted by the SITA newswire.

Okay, so they're paranoid, too.  Except they aren't, as Harabin, the Judicial Council head, confirmed through a spokesperson:

One of the cases to cause a judicial stir was that of Supreme Court Judge Peter Paluda, who has been temporarily suspended after filing a criminal complaint against Harabin for alleged abuse of power. Paluda is among the signatories of the letter.

The Judicial Council called Paluda’s complaint a “deceitful and untrue complaint about the Supreme Court chairman” which they said was filed with the intention of harming and dishonouring Harabin.

Helena Kožíková, a member of the Judicial Council, was quoted by SITA as saying that the council suspended Paluda because “whether anybody likes it or not, it is at odds with judges' ethics to file criminal complaints against the chairman of the court or a colleague”.

(The complaint apparently had to do with unpaid compensation owed judges.)

You have to admit, it's a handy and easily-remembered definition of judicial ethics.  Unlike the typical American code based on the ABA model rules, which is nearly impossible to violate without money changing hands on video, it has an admirable combination of brevity and clarity: don't criticize the chief judge. 

So what about it is hard for Slovakian judges to understand?

Stanislav Sojka, a judge at the Michalovce District Court, has now learned that writting letters to the head of state can be a perilous undertaking.

Sojka was found guilty of a serious disciplinary offence by the disciplinary senate of the Supreme Court on October 21.

The court ruled that a letter which Sojka sent to Slovakia’s president, Ivan Gašparovič, constituted a serious violation of judicial ethics. ...

The disciplinary senate said that Sojka’s letter was filled with “semi-truths and invectives” against his boss, Jozef Soročina, attorney Juraj Kus and former justice minister Štefan Harabin, the Sme daily reported.

The Slovak media has not learned the exact reasons why Sojka is now being punished, but his salary is to be cut by 50 percent for the next six months.

That name Harabin seems to keep coming up:

Judge Jana Dubovcová has never hid her opinions about the state of the judiciary in Slovakia and its top representative, Štefan Harabin. Earlier this year, she supported a campaign run by a political ethics watchdog seeking to prevent Harabin’s election as Supreme Court President. She did not sign a letter prepared by 15 Slovak judges charging that disciplinary proceedings were being used against some judges as a tool of intimidation only because she thought that the letter was addressed to the wrong people. The judges sent their letter to the president, prime minister and speaker of parliament hoping to find a sympathetic ear. But Dubovcová, a Banská Bystrica district court judge, suggested in an op-ed published in the Sme daily on September 9 that she held these three officials partially responsible for the current condition of Slovakia’s judiciary.

Shortly thereafter, Dubovcová’s boss, Ľubomír Bušík, submitted a proposal for disciplinary action against her and demanded the strictest possible punishment – suspension. Bušík claimed that by expressing her personal opinion, Dubovcová had questioned the work of the Judicial Council. Bušík also criticised Dubovcová for attaching her name to the “Red Light for Harabin” campaign organised by the Fair Play Alliance NGO to oppose Harabin’s election, according to Sme.

Shortly afterward, the powers that be backed down, while suggesting Dubovcová was really carrying water for her former boss, now an opposition MP.  Both the withdrawal of the charges (treating the female judge more leniently than her male colleagues--check out the ninth paragraph of this story) and the attempted smear (suggesting she's the puppet of a powerful male) strike me as at least presumptively sexist. 

Male judges don't appear to get the benefit of withdrawn charges:

Juraj Majchrák, the former vice president of the Supreme Court and the honorary chairman of the Association of Judges of Slovakia faces yet another, now the third, disciplinary proceeding against him within three months, Sme reported.

Harabin is proposing that Majchrák be suspended as a judge due to what Harabin calls a failure by the judge to handle his duties, claiming violations such as procrastination on cases. Majchrák, who has been a critic of Harabin and also his competitor as a counter-candidate for the post of Supreme Court president in 2003, only learned about the third disciplinary proceeding from journalists who were seeking his response.

The appalling Harabin was formerly Justice Minister for the country.  While serving in that position, two members of Parliament,

[Daniel] Lipšic (KDH) and Lucia Žitňanská (SDKÚ), sought to have Harabin recalled for what they said was being on friendly terms with Baki Sadiki, the alleged boss of a drug gang that operates in Slovakia. Harabin not only survived that motion, but today sits atop Slovakia’s Supreme Court.

Nevertheless the sentence “You will go to jail, you bastard”, which Harabin said to Lipšic, as broadcast by the TA3 news channel, will now remain a symbol of this peculiar era of Slovakia’s judiciary – a throwback to bullying tactics that Slovaks thought they had permanently rid themselves of in 1989. But apparitions from the past still lurk in dark corners, ready to emerge should society lose its vigilance.

Slovakia has long been viewed, at least semi-unfairly, as a smoky blue collar contrast to its beautiful former yokefellow Bohemia -- the Albuquerque to Prague's Santa Fe.  But it borrowed its legal system from Germany, a pretty good model.  And in recent years it's produced more good news than a lot of the former Communist nations.  But relatively good economic times might only have disguised the extent to which Stalinist hoods were still running the country.

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