IMAGINE you’re a Slovak judge. Now imagine you have to pick a group which deserves millions of euros in compensation for its discrimination. Who would you choose? The Roma, the Hungarians, the blind, the poor, gays and lesbians, the physically disabled, and mentally handicapped, those are all good guesses. But the judges’ actual answer defies all imagination – they have picked themselves.
Seeing the decision of hundreds of local judges to file diskriminačné žaloby – antidiscrimination complaints – is like reading Kafka, but scarier, and like reading Catch 22, but more absurd. What are the main problems?
1. The claim is completely unjustified. The judges allege to have been discriminated against, because judges of the “Special Court” set up to deal with criminal cases involving politicians and big-time Mafiosi, had bigger salaries. Never mind the fact that anyone could have applied for the posts, but for a long time they remained empty due to the high demands of the job. It’s obvious that the judges’ motivation is a mix of envy and greed, not exactly virtues you are looking for in a public officer.
2. The amounts being demanded are insane. Although it’s not certain whether all justices filed the same papers, according to the complaints of twelve judges of the Supreme Court which were leaked to the press, each of them is asking for €150,000. In one case which has already been ruled, a lower-level judge has been awarded €90,000 . In a country where the average monthly salary is somewhere around €700, that is a lot of money.
3. The claims are backed by absurd legal arguments. Let’s pretend the Constitutional Court was not completely off-mark when last year, as it was demolishing the Special Court, it ruled that the salaries there were discriminatory to others. Let’s also pretend the Discrimination Act was in fact intended to protect not socially vulnerable groups, but judges with life-long appointments. Even then – how do you explain asking for such shocking amounts? This is how: The public’s knowledge of our lower salaries damaged our good name and humiliated us in the eyes of others. For that, we need compensation. That’s more or less the arguments used by the 12 people from the Supreme Court, and presumably by others as well.
4. Judges are organised and numerous. It has been proven by the media that templates of complaints were circulating in the judiciary before and after the Constitutional Court’s decision. So this is no act of a lone lunatic, but a mass conspiracy. There are no exact figures, but according to some estimates as many as 80 percent of the twelve hundred judges have joined in. The ministry has confirmed it registers hundreds of complaints, many of them filed by more than one judge. This means one thing – anyone trying these cases will more than likely be in a huge conflict of interest. Finding anyone who’s not seems an impossible task.
5. Justice Minister Petríková has also filed. It’s hard to expect a real clash in the courtroom, since the boss of the institution being sued is doing the exact same thing as the plaintiff. So you will have biased judges presiding over disputes in which both sides want the same thing – to strip the state of some cash.
6. Many of the better judges are even on board. Problems in the judiciary are nothing new. But there was a group of perhaps one hundred judges who protested when Štefan Harabin, who had unexplained ties to alleged drug-lords and has been caught out for lying, was elected head of the Supreme Court, as well as when he started persecuting his opponents through disciplinary proceedings. Now it seems that many of these judges have also filed complaints. Their explanations that they did so only to “display the absurdity of the situation” do not sound credible. The situation is absurd enough as it is. Even if it weren’t, experimenting with public money is not a good way to prove a point.
7. No one seems to realise it’s public money we’re talking about. Judges, good and bad, argue that it is “the state” that will foot the bill for their imagined discrimination. But there is no such thing as “state money”. All that is just money paid by the citizens and firms they are supposed to be serving.
It is clearly the people, not the judges of Slovakia, who should be complaining about discrimination.
15. Feb 2010 at 0:00 | Lukáš Fila