Yesterday’s post reported that on February 9th the Supreme Court of Spain, 7-0, convicted Judge Baltasar Garzon of prevarication (knowingly making an unjust decision) in the case involving his authorization of police bugging of communications between individuals charged with corruption and their attorneys. Judge Garzon was sentenced to removal from the bench for 11 years plus a fine of Euros 2,500. According to El Pais, there is no right of appeal from this decision under Spanish law.
A subsequent article in El Pais provided additional details about the decision. The newspaper said that in a 69-page decision the court stated that Judge Garzon’s allowance of wire-tapping of attorney-client communications caused a “drastic and unjustified reduction in the defense’s strategy” and violated the constitutional rights of the accused corruption ringleaders. The decision of Judge Garzon was one “typical of totalitarian regimes,” the decision declared.
Later in the day Judge Garzon released a statement. It said,”I reject outright the judgment . . . . I do so understanding that it does not comply with the law, which condemns me unfairly and unjustly . . . . I will use the appropriate legal channels to combat and mitigate the irreparable harm that the authors of this judgment have caused. . . . Throughout this process, my rights have been systematically violated; my requests for defense neglected; the trial was an excuse, with the content . . . only against me, regardless of the supporting elements that benefited me.” In addition, the statement said the court had prevented him from offering evidence showing that the “crime bosses” used their lawyers to launder money and that the judgment “does not say at any time what the damage was to the right of defense of the accused corruption ringleaders.
Moreover, Garzon’s attorney said that Judge Garzon felt an understandable “desolation and pain,” but was considering an appeal to Spain’s constitutional court or the European court of Human Rights.
Thousands of people gathered outside Spain’s Supreme Court building after the court’s decision was released to protest the ruling. A public opinion poll indicated that over 60% of the Spanish people thought Garzon was a victim of persecution and that the Spanish justice system had been adversely affected.
The International Commission of Jurists released a statement condemning the conviction. It said this decision “is the deplorable conclusion of a criminal proceeding that should have never been initiated in the first place. Garzón has been removed from the bench for interpreting the law and rendering a decision but whether or not one agrees with the interpretation and decision, this is precisely what being a judge is about. Applying a criminal sanction against a judge who is doing his job is a clear denial of judicial independence. The fact that the prosecutor had asked for the dismissal of the case and that several judges shared Garzón’s interpretation of the law shows by itself that the decision originally taken by Garzón could not be considered arbitrary. The context of this conviction is very worrying. Three proceedings have been opened against a judge who lifted the veil of amnesty protecting alleged crimes against humanity that have yet to be investigated. One might wonder to what extent this sentence is just a way to silence Garzón.”
Human Rights Watch said that this case along with the other two criminal cases against Garzon appear to be a “reprisal for his past actions against vested interests.”
Philippe Sands, a noted expert on international law at University College in London, said that “targeting an independent judge . . . thought the criminal justice system anywhere raises serious concerns.”
Spain’s justice minister, on the other hand, stated that it was not for the government to make a “political assessment” of the decision, except that it demonstrated “the normal functioning of our institutions.”
As a U.S. lawyer, I reiterate my plea for comments by those more knowledgeable about Spanish law and procedure to clarify or correct my accounts of this and the other two cases against Judge Garzon. In my next post I will more generally examine the reactions to all three of the criminal cases against Judge Garzon.