DOZENS of anti-discrimination lawsuits that Slovak judges have filed because salaries were lower than those of judges serving at the now-defunct Special Court have been dropped. The reasons for the judges’ changes of heart about their lawsuits remain unclear, but their claims of wage discrimination have been criticised for undermining public trust in the justice system.
About 50 wage discrimination lawsuits had been withdrawn as of October 10, according to Justice Ministry statistics reported by the Sme daily. However, it is not clear how many judges had actually dropped their cases since many of the lawsuits were mass complaints involving several plaintiffs.
Hundreds of judges have filed wage discrimination lawsuits since 2007, most of them following a Constitutional Court ruling in May 2009 which found that the Special Court, set up by a previous government to fight high-level corruption and organised crime, had not been established in accordance with the country’s constitution. Part of the ruling was based on the grounds that the position of judges in different courts was unequal, including in terms of pay. Special Court judges typically received considerably higher pay than regular judges.
The Justice Ministry under Lucia Žitňanská, the minister since 2010, has been collating information about these wage-discrimination lawsuits. According to ministry spokesperson Peter Bubla, at least 702 judges filed such a lawsuit, according to the latest information, with total damages requested amounting to more than €70 million. The ministry is a defendant in about 200 of the lawsuits; the rest have been brought against other institutions such as the Slovak parliament or individual courts such as the Supreme Court.
New presidents withdraw
Many of the newly-appointed presidents and vice-presidents of district and regional courts are among those who changed their minds and withdrew their discrimination lawsuits, the Sme daily noted.
While Žitňanská denied that she had made it a condition that judges drop their lawsuits in order to be appointed, she admitted that she had spoken to the would-be court presidents about their actions. Specifically, she said she explained to them that if they had filed a wage-discrimination lawsuit they could, as court presidents, be faced with a conflict of interest.
The head of the Trnava District Court, Judge Dagmar Valocká, admitted to the Sme daily that the opinion of the ministry had played a role in her decision to withdraw her lawsuit. In the end she withdrew it after she was appointed president of the court.
Court fees disqualify some
Another reason why the number of discrimination lawsuits has thinned recently may be that the Justice Ministry under Žitňanská started insisting that judges pay court fees when filing discrimination lawsuits. As many as 58 cases have been dismissed due to the fact that the judges who filed the lawsuits had not paid the relevant court fees. Four of the cases are not dismissed completely; in the remaining 54 cases the judges still have the right to appeal against the decision, Sme reported.
Some of the judges claim that it is unconstitutional to demand that they pay court fees, saying that in lawsuits directed against the state, where the Slovak Republic is the defendant in the case, the state is not entitled to require that court fees be paid.
If that were true, judges who failed in their lawsuits would not suffer any direct financial loss if they were to lose their cases. Conversely, if they are required to pay court fees, they risk losing money as the fees are not refundable in the event that a case is lost.
Court fees amount to €66 plus 3 percent of the sum that is sought in damages. For a judge who claimed damages of €186,000 that would mean their fees would amount to €5,600, Sme wrote.
Under the previous government the Justice Ministry did not insist on judges paying court fees. In fact, justice minister Viera Petríková had lodged a wage-discrimination lawsuit on her own behalf while working previously as a judge. It remained pending during her time as minister.
17. Oct 2011 at 0:00 | Michaela Terenzani