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Harabin in hot water

JUSTICE Minister Lucia Žitňanská has filed yet another disciplinary proposal against Supreme Court President Štefan Harabin, alleging that he violated his duties as the court president as defined by several laws.

JUSTICE Minister Lucia Žitňanská has filed yet another disciplinary proposal against Supreme Court President Štefan Harabin, alleging that he violated his duties as the court president as defined by several laws.

Her action came on the heels of a recent ruling by the Constitutional Court which ordered Harabin to forfeit 70 percent of his salary for one year for not letting the Finance Ministry’s auditors perform an audit at his court.

This time, Žitňanská filed a proposal for disciplinary action against the Supreme Court president because, as she said on August 3, she is convinced he has not carried out his obligations to protect the interests of the Slovak Republic in the wage discrimination lawsuits filed by 11 Supreme Court judges against the Supreme Court.

Žitňanská said that in particular Harabin did not appeal against a Bratislava I District Court ruling from November 10, 2010 in favour of the judges, which ordered the state to pay damages of €1 million, plus court expenses of over €45,000.

Žitňanská alleges Harabin violated the law on judges, the law on the administration of state assets, and the law on the budgetary rules in public administration. She said he was obliged to use all available legal tools to protect state assets as part of his administrative duties as the Supreme Court head and had failed to do so. Since Harabin has already been found guilty of committing a major disciplinary offence, the minister proposes that the new disciplinary court strip him of his post as a judge.

Žitňanská said that the Supreme Court president, like any other court president, must follow guidelines that stay within the limits of the law and the public interest.

The Supreme Court responded by saying that the sanction requested by the minister is legal nonsense and nothing more than political chicanery.

Hundreds of judges have filed wage discrimination lawsuits following a Constitutional Court ruling in May 2009 that found that Slovakia’s Special Court had not been established in accordance with the country’s constitution. The case was brought mainly on the grounds that Special Court judges were paid more than Supreme Court judges. The already muddy waters of the Slovak judiciary were stirred further in February 2010 when the first verdict in a wage-discrimination lawsuit found in favour a Trenčín Regional Court judge and awarded him €90,000 in damages. The verdict was handed down by another judge who was herself the plaintiff in a similar complaint. The Justice Ministry did not react at that time and the former justice minister, Viera Petríková, herself had a wage-discrimination lawsuit pending, which she had filed while previously working as a judge.

Salary records indicate that the 11 Supreme Court judges who filed suits were being paid €4,300 less than judges sitting on Slovakia’s Special Court.

Previously, on July 26, the Supreme Court stated that it must respect the Constitutional Court verdict which ruled there had been the wage discrimination against the Supreme Court judges.

“The Supreme Court plenum repeatedly stated that the Supreme Court president shouldn’t appeal since that only increases the costs of the lawsuits at the expense of the taxpayers,” the Supreme Court wrote.

The Justice Ministry rejected that argument, saying that the state is not obligated to pay court costs in this case. Žitňanská said there are some 700 lawsuits along these same lines and she believes they must have been organised by someone hoping to “strengthen his power in the judiciary”. She suggested this more than likely the Supreme Court president.


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