Harabin asks for €300,000 in damages

A GOOD name is more desirable than great riches, wrote Slovakia’s Supreme Court President Štefan Harabin in quoting the scriptures in his lawsuit filed against Renáta Papšová, a psychiatrist who last year participated in a public discussion about the state of Slovakia’s judiciary, the Sme daily reported.

A GOOD name is more desirable than great riches, wrote Slovakia’s Supreme Court President Štefan Harabin in quoting the scriptures in his lawsuit filed against Renáta Papšová, a psychiatrist who last year participated in a public discussion about the state of Slovakia’s judiciary, the Sme daily reported.

“As a physician I can say that sometimes illnesses are contagious and our judiciary is ill,” Papšová told public-service Slovak Television (RTVS) in April 2012. “Juraj Majchrák became ill and so did JUDr Lauková, who in the same way died from tough persecution by doctor Harabin.”

Papšová was the treating physician of the late Marta Lauková, a judge who died of serious health conditions, as well as of Juraj Majchrák, a one-time vice president of the Supreme Court who committed suicide.

Harabin has sued the psychiatrist over what he called slander and now is seeking €100,000 in damages from Papšová and an additional €200,000 from RTVS for broadcasting the discussion as part of its investigative journalism programme Reportéri in May 2012.

While Harabin was not personally present at the trial that started on June 25 due to a work-related trip to Montenegro, the lawsuit filed by the Supreme Court president has attracted the attention of a number of senior diplomats, with Theodore Sedgwick, US Ambassador to Slovakia, Susannah Montgomery, British Ambassador to Slovakia, and diplomatic employees of the Dutch, Danish and the Swiss embassies attending the trial, according to the SITA newswire.

Harabin’s legal representative, Elena Ľalíková, suggested that the court should consider excluding the public from the hearing since sensitive information about Majchrák and Lauková would be presented. However, Papšová’s lawyer objected to the proposal and agreed only with excluding the public from certain parts of the trial, SITA wrote.

Harabin maintains that he bears no responsibility for the death of the two judges and his lawyer argued that Papšová based her statements entirely on things said by her patients.

“Neither the plaintiff nor the judiciary are icons to which citizens should look up at from below without criticism,” responded Papšová’s lawyer, Tomáš Kamenec.

Kamenec argued that his client made only an evaluative assessment of the judiciary and not any factual allegations.

“In my opinion this proceeding is a fight for the character of the state,” Kamenec said, as quoted by SITA, adding that “it is significant whether in a democratic society, the judiciary and its top representative can be subjected to criticism” or whether criticism would result in an “extraordinarily draconian sanction imposed by the court”.

Ľalíková argued that the complaint by her client was justified, asserting that Papšová’s statements could be perceived by the public as if Harabin was responsible for the deaths of Majchrák and Lauková.

“Every lay observer could arrive at this conclusion,” Ľalíková argued, as quoted by SITA, adding that the psychiatrist based her statement only on what her patients had told her and “thus she based [her statement] on one-sided claims which had not been verified anywhere”.

Ľalíková said that Harabin was forced to protect himself because he was being asked what he had done to these judges who subsequently died, SITA wrote.

Kamenec argued that if a psychiatrist, who is interested in societal developments and is the therapist of two judges, has an impression that the judiciary is sick that psycholgist has the right to express her opinion.

“If it is specifically the plaintiff who has been leading the judiciary for many years, it is impossible for him not to be more or less connected or personified with such a perception by the public,” Kamenec stated, adding that the comment that is the subject of the lawsuit is an evaluative statement by the psychiatrist during a more than one-hour discussion and it should not be taken out of context, according to SITA.

The psychiatrist did not expect that her statement would be the subject of a lawsuit and subsequent trial. Papšová said that the two judges had mentioned Harabin in the conversations they had during therapy and that they had felt “large psychological pressure” from the president of the Supreme Court.

The lawyer for RTVS, Tomáš Bardalčík, argued that Papšová did not make a factual allegation but rather a personal assessment, which the television station then broadcast during its programme. He noted that the validity of one’s opinion does not need to be verified, SITA wrote.

The judges

Majchrák, a known critic of Harabin, retired from the judiciary in 2010 after being diagnosed with a serious illness. He was found dead in the garage of his home in Bratislava on April 14, 2011 and the police reported his death as a suicide. He had been the presiding judge on several important cases, including the so-called “acid gang” prosecution in which the bodies of murder victims were dissolved in acid. Majchrák, who for some time also served as president of the Association of Judges of Slovakia, was the subject of three disciplinary proceedings during Harabin’s tenure.

Lauková, who served as a Bratislava criminal judge, stated shortly before her death in September 2010 that her superior, Gabriela Buľubášová, the head of the Bratislava I district court, had attempted to influence one of her decisions. She submitted as evidence a note from Buľubášová stating that Lauková should release a certain prisoner. The judge did not do so and shortly afterwards was transferred from the criminal department to the civil law department.

Lauková filed a criminal complaint against Buľubášová in which she claimed her superior had attempted to improperly influence her. Soon after Lauková’s death the police stopped their investigation of the complaint against Buľubášová and closed the case, stating that no crime had been committed. The Sme daily also wrote that when Lauková became ill and started sick leave she was stripped of the bonus that was to be paid during the leave because her court superiors decided that her sick leave was not legitimate.

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