Like Under Totalitarian Regime

A judge critical of Harabin [Supreme Court chairman] cannot go on official trips and she feels persecuted.

The situation at the Supreme Court resembles the times of the totalitarian communist regime [in former Czechoslovakia], when disobedient individuals were not allowed to fulfill themselves professionally and ended up cleared away to the most inappropriate positions.  Elena Berthotyova, a signatory of the [judges] appeal entitled For an Open Judiciary and also a Supreme Court judge, has not been able to travel to any expert conferences and seminars and she is not even allowed to give lectures.  This is because all of the above is subject to approval by Supreme Court Chairman Stefan Harabin, who has long denied it to the judge.  Most recently, he did not let her attend the Global Forum on Public Administration and Combating Corruption in Prague, where she was to lecture and lead a thematic panel.  Even the US ambassador to Slovakia intervened in the matter with a letter.  However, Harabin remains adamant and he has not even replied to the ambassador.

 

US Efforts

 

Berthotyova was invited to the international conference in Prague by US federal judge Mark Wolf, who has followed the problems of the Slovak judiciary.  "The organizers asked me whether I could recommend any experts from Central and Eastern Europe in the spheres of anti-corruption programs and law enforcement.  I suggested Interior Minister Daniel Lipsic, constitutional judge and [parliamentary] Deputy Radoslav Prochazka, and excellent judge Elena Berthotyova, with whom I met in Bratislava in March."

 

Wolf appreciates especially Berthotyova's endeavor at creating a new ethical code for Slovak judges, as well as her tirelessly alerting to problems in the judiciary.  Together with him and Daniel Lipsic, she was to lead a thematic panel at the prestigious conference.  "Unfortunately, the Supreme Court chairman, Mr Harabin, failed to give her permission for such an official trip.  I am very disappointed at this.  The US ambassador to Slovakia even wrote a letter to Stefan Harabin over the issue, expressing disappointment at his decision.  He received no reply, though."

 

Persecuted

 

Stefan Harabin is one of the last relics of Meciarism in Slovak society.  To stand up to his practices entails harsh consequences.  Judge Elena Berthotyova is well familiar with them.  She is a co-founder of the critical association Judges "For an Open Judiciary" and one of Stefan Harabin's ideological opponents.  It is therefore no surprise that, when she asked Harabin, in October, to approve her official trip to the international conference in Prague, she did not receive a positive response.  "I received no reply to my request for approval of an official trip to Prague.  Only the chairwoman of the council informed me that I would not get approval.  This was not the first time.  All of my requests for official trips, whether they concerned domestic or foreign seminars, have ended up rejected," judge Berthotyova says.

 

Supreme Court Chairman Harabin does not even bother to think up reasons for his negative positions.  "Nothing has ever been substantiated to me.  I see this as persecution of me as a person -- and the same kinds of problems have been faced by all of the other critical judges," the judge adds.  Those of her colleagues who avoid confrontation with the chairman allegedly do not have to deal with the said kinds of problems and they do not face any difficulties in attending conferences and seminars.  "I do not even get approval for giving lectures, even though I give them free of charge," Berthotyova remarks.  "I specialize in asylum law and I have given lectures to migration officials and police officers for seven years now.  However, I can do this only during leave or in the evening hours."

 

The critical judge thus sits at home and Harabin makes sure that she has plenty of work to do.  Two years ago, 30 files landed on her desk.  She objected, saying that they had been assigned to her outside the electronic filing room and that their retroactive force could cause procrastination, for which she would be held responsible.  Even though her objections were accepted by the Judges Council, Harabin failed to take the files from her.  He also showed late last year just how he valued her initiative, when he awarded her and five other judges a bonus of 50 euros each.  They demonstratively returned the money to him, describing it as a mockery of their work and results.  The office of the Supreme Court chairman failed to respond to our questions concerning the case of judge Berthotyova.

 

[Box] Harabin Is Unique Phenomenon in Democracy

 

Judge Mark Wolf pointed out already some time ago that Slovakia was an "unusual case" in terms of the situation in the judiciary.  He drew attention especially to the high number of disciplinary actions launched against judges who had been critical of Stefan Harabin and who had taken the liberty of voicing their views publicly.  Wolf says that "similar problems also occur in other countries, which, however, are not considered to be standard democracies."

 

Another example of non-standard conduct in the Slovak judiciary is the licentious replacement of three judges on the Supreme Court board that adjudicated the sensitive Tipos [state-run lottery company] case.  The replacement was conducted by Stefan Harabin and later described as unlawful and "expedient, at the least," by the Constitutional Court.  It would be unthinkable in the US court system.  "At my court, all files are assigned strictly by random electronic selection, so that there is not even a shadow of suspicion that I, as the court chairman, have deliberately selected a judge about whom I know how he will decide on the specific case," judge Wolf says.

 

He adds that, while he has the power to distribute work to judges himself in exceptional situations if some of them are overloaded, he has never used it and never will.  "This is a question of the principle that justice is blind."

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