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Garzón Convicted – Update

Feb 9, 2012

Judge Baltasar Garzón was convicted 9 February by Spain’s Supreme Court and given an 11-year suspension. Four days later, a second set of charges were dissmissed. But Pia Navazo reports the conviction in effect ends Garzón’s judicial career.

The Spanish Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the wiretaps that Garzón ordered within the Gürtel corruption case were illegal. The ruling is not subject to appeal. 

In its decision the Supreme Court usesd severe terms, accusing Judge Garzón of “using practices that are typical of totalitarian regimes” and of causing an unjustified limitation of the right to defence and other rights attached to it. The Court accused Garzón of reducing the Spanish criminal process as a whole to the level of past political systems, in which all methods no matter are permitted to obtain information for the purposes of State, disregarding the citizen’s minimum guarantees, and of rendering the legal and constitutional guarantees void.

In particular, the Supreme Court found that the Judge “did not have information that could minimally indicate, upon a reasonable evaluation, that the status of lawyer and the exercise of the right to defence were being used to allow the commission of crimes”. Garzón alleged in his defence that the measure (i.e. interception of lawyer-client conversations) was proportionate due to the seriousness of the crimes, and thus, legal.

But the Supreme Court rejected his argument saying that what was involved was not a misinterpretation of the law, but an arbitrary act, one that lacks all legal base and attacks the constitutional structure of the criminal process as a fair process. 

The ruling states that Garzón’s wrong consists of interpreting that it was lawful to tap lawyer-client conversations on the sole basis of signs of criminal activity by the client, disregarding that the taps also affected the lawyers, which they ruled is not defendable under any reasonable interpretation of the law (during the trial two of the Prosecutors involved testified that they had felt that Garzón’s decision to wiretap the conversation was proportionate to the seriousness of the crimes, and thus, legal).

Garzón is prevented form obtaining any employment or duty with a judicial or governing functions within the judiciary for 11 years and is liable to a fine of 2,500 euros.

In a press release yesterday, Judge Garzón rejected the ruling and, not mincing his words, stated that the Supreme Court had convicted him in “an unjust and predetermined manner”.

According to Garzón, the ruling lacks both judicial reasoning and evidence, denies possibilities to investigate corruption and related crimes, opens the spaces of impunity, and seriously contributes to reducing the independence for Spanish judges, all in an effort to stop one specific jude.

Garzón claims that all through the process his rights have been systematically breached. He describes the hearings as a pretext to reach a verdict which was decided a long time ago.

Regarding the merits (the breach of the right to a defence for which he has been convicted), Judge Garzón’s statement says that the court ruling does not specify the damage caused to the right to a defence, simply, because such a damage doesn’t exist. He alleges that he took all appropriate measures to guarantee such a right, as shown by evidence that the court has ignored.

As the ruling is passed by the Supreme Court, there is no ordinary appeal available for Garzón. However, he may try to appeal before the Constitutional Court, which can rule on constitutional matters, such as the breach of the right to a fair trial. The Constitutional Court has discretion to accept or reject the matter.

Upon rejection by the Constitutional court, he may then challenge the ruling before the European Court of Human Rights. Both the European Convention of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights guarantee the right to a review of criminal convictions by a higher tribunal according to law.

Garzón has declared that he shall use all legal means to challenge the ruling.

The Supreme Court drops charges against Judge Garzón

On 13 February, In the second of the three cases brought against Judge Garzón, the Supreme Court decided to dissmiss the charges against him.

Judge Garzón was accused of accepting irregular financial support stemming from courses given by him at New York University in 2005-06, consisting in having requested and accepted US$ 1,237,000 from Spanish companies and banks.

In addition to the irregular financing accusation, the private accusation held that he had further committed a crime of malfeasance. The allegation was that after having accepted financing from Banco Santander, he had dropped a case against its President, Mr. Emilio Botín, one of the most important businessmen in Spain.

Judge Garzón’s defence alleged that the facts did not constitute a crime and that, even in that case, they were time barred. 

Similarly, the State Prosecutor, in a writ put forward last week, stated that the facts did not amount to a crime and that they were time-barred, and on those grounds requested termination of the case. 

The Judge instructing the case, Judge Manuel Marchena, in an apprent change of opinion, now aggrees that the case is time barred.  However, regardless the termination of the case due to the statue of limitations, the ruling of the Supreme Court understands that the evidence shows that the financing was connected with Mr. Garzón’s position as a judge.

This comes only 4 days after the conviction last Thursday for excess of power in the corruption case, meaning a 11 year suspension for the Judge.

The proximity between this ruling and the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Gürthel case, and the sudden change of the Presiding judge’s view in this case(suddenly accepting that the case is time barred), raises further doubts as to the independency of the Spanish judiciary system in its treatment of Judge Garzón.

The third of the three cases, in which he is accused of abusing power when accepting to investigate the crimes of the civil war and the Franco dictatorship, is still pending and the ruling is expected in the coming weeks. Jude Garzón faces a suspension of up to 20 years in that case, which would be added to the 11 year-suspension he has already received.

Pia Navazo

Image: elfer