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28 Apr 2014 Beata Balogová Opinion
THE SUPREME Court presidency has turned into quite a personal affair for Štefan Harabin. If it wasn’t, Harabin would have considered what is actually beneficial for the sad state of the judiciary in Slovakia, and would not even be toying with the idea of re-election. Even Prime Minister Robert Fico, who has never been a staunch critic of judicial indiscretion – except briefly during his recent presidential campaign – recommended that Harabin not run for re-election.
The validity of the motivations behind Fico’s lack of endorsement might be in doubt, but it’s hard for Harabin to turn his back on a protest signed by 13 judges from his own court who feel that something went wrong as the Judicial Council nominated Harabin, one of the most universally criticised figures in Slovak society, as a candidate for the post.
One of the virtues of a judge should be an ability to assess reality, including testimony and evidence, and then react accordingly. Harabin has his hands on many a judicial string and if polls keep saying (as they do) that more than half of the people feel like something is rotten in the state of the courts, then he shares responsibility for this. The fact that his current term elapsed indeed gave Harabin a chance to leave quietly. This is something that people like Harabin never do.
It was the same for Vladimír Mečiar, the three-time prime minister who kept trying to stay in the game until he took his entire party down with him. It’s like Fico himself, who is unlikely to ever voluntarily say good bye to power. Harabin will never quit on his own. A moment of self-reflection with an insight like “Well, I divide the judiciary so I better step aside”, is unlikely to be added to become part of his CV anytime soon. So, there is nothing left to conclude than his motivations are personal.
It is unlikely that protest or initiatives from civil society would change Harabin’s mind. Why would they? Such things did not stop him in 2009 from marching straight from the Justice Ministry over to the Supreme Court’s top job. One of the rallies initiated by the political ethics watchdog, the Fair-Play Alliance, featured a reading of a transcript of an alleged audio recording of a phone conversation between Harabin and convicted drug lord Baki Sadiki.
All public appeals should now go to members of the Judicial Council, which is the body that will officially select the new Supreme Court chief (who incidentally doubles as the chair of the council itself, but that is a whole other issue). The vote on Harabin’s future line of work will undoubtedly show just how deep the rabbit hole is or if there is a hope for reforming the judiciary the top down.
This is actually Harabin’s third shot at the Supreme Court top job, where he had already served between 1998 and 2003. He must have pretty fond memories of his previous stints in the Supreme Court, especially his time between 2001 and 2002 when he granted himself the highest bonuses in the court’s history, as revealed by the Slovak Governance Institute (SGI) in 2009. Harabin responded that it was in line with the law and well deserved. The SGI told the SITA newswire that Harabin took advantage of a temporary loophole after a change in legislation when the power to determine financial bonuses was being transferred from parliament to the Judicial Council.
Harabin is known for other things as well, including a passion for libel suits. Over the past eight years courts have awarded him damages worth €164,000 from the media and from the General Prosecutor’s Office for €150,000. The latter will eventually be covered from the taxpayers’ pocket, according to Via Iuris, a judicial ethics watchdog.
When it comes to descriptions of the ideal candidate for the head of the Supreme Court, the Slovak public keeps hearing tales of personal integrity, leading by example in professional and private life and imperviousness to political influence. Harabin was brought to the Justice Ministry by the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), Mečiar’s party. Even if all his other apparent failings are ignored, this should raise questions.
That is to say nothing of decency, a simple but not quite frequently met condition in Slovakia’s politics or public space. Over the course of his career Harabin has made a number of disputable statements, including comments he directed at his predecessor as justice minister, Daniel Lipšic. “You will go to jail, you bastard!” Harabin said. When confronted by Lipšic, Harabin denied having said any such thing.
Harabin might argue he has merits for the job, but even if he had any, when all this is weighed on a scale, the Judicial Council should undoubtedly see what is best for the judiciary: a ‘no’ to Harabin.
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