Three up for Supreme Court chief

“IT DOES not matter whether I win or my friend does,” Supreme Court President Štefan Harabin commented after Justice Minister Tomáš Borec nominated Jana Bajánková for the May 19 vote to be Supreme Court president. Bajánková joins Harabin himself and Zuzana Ďurišová, proposed by the For an Open Judiciary (ZOJ) group critical of Harabin in the closely watched race.

“IT DOES not matter whether I win or my friend does,” Supreme Court President Štefan Harabin commented after Justice Minister Tomáš Borec nominated Jana Bajánková for the May 19 vote to be Supreme Court president. Bajánková joins Harabin himself and Zuzana Ďurišová, proposed by the For an Open Judiciary (ZOJ) group critical of Harabin in the closely watched race.

Borec, who submitted his nomination on the very last day before the submission deadline, praised Bajánková as an experienced judge with the necessary managerial skills. Speaking to The Slovak Spectator, former justice minister and long-term Harabin critic Lucia Žitňanská called Ďurišová a “good candidate”. Given the make-up of the Judicial Council, the 18-member body tasked with choosing the new chair of the court and the council, Bajánková, Borec’s nominee, might have the best chances of getting elected as she has already gained the support of three members of the council.

Harabin had earlier suggested that he might withdraw from the race to the benefit of Bajánková, but in an April 29 interview with the Sme daily, he noted he was nominated by 60 judges of the Supreme Court, the Judicial Council and the Association of Judges of Slovakia (ZSS) and, thus, he feels conflicted about quitting.

Borec admitted to also having approached judges from ZOJ, Elena Berthotyová and Miroslav Gavalec, as well as former Supreme Court president Milan Karabín and Judge Jana Baričová.

“Each of them considered the offer, but in the end I received negative answers,” Borec said, as quoted by the TASR newswire.

The judges turned down the offer because the association is united in backing its candidate, Ďurišová, Sme reported.

According to Borec, Bajánková is a candidate with a real chance of succeeding in the upcoming elections.

In her statement for the media, Bajánková said that in May 2012 she was elected a member of the Judicial Council with 568 votes out of the 1,160 voting judges, which was the second highest number of votes in that election: “I worked at courts of all levels and at the Supreme Court since 2006 I am the chairwoman of the civil-legal college”.

Bajánková is believed to be a close collaborator of Harabin at the Supreme Court, according to Sme. She is the head of the civil legal college and a member of the Judicial Council.

“I view it as an advantage that Bajánková will be able to communicate with all Supreme Court judges in a normal, professional manner,” said Borec.

Bajánková argued that the trust she has among the judges germinates from what she called her professional grounding, while she considers this a good basis to offer the “Supreme Court a new style of management for the sake of increasing the credibility of the institution”.

Bajánková is convinced that it is necessary to focus on effective organisation of work and mainly the unifying nature of the activities of the Supreme Court in order to strengthen legal certainty in Slovakia, the SITA newswire reported.

The main rival for both Bajánková and Ďurišová will nevertheless be Harabin. The Judicial Council, the top judicial body, which is chaired by Harabin himself, proposed him as a candidate for the race on April 15. The ZSS, an organisation representing a third of the judges in Slovakia, supported Harabin’s candidacy on April 28.

“The opinions of lower level courts were that there was no other candidate,” said ZSS President Dana Bystrianska, as quoted by SITA.

Just four days after the March 29 presidential election run-off that saw Prime Minister Robert Fico lose to philanthropist Andrej Kiska (who said he would never appoint Harabin if he were elected), Harabin rushed to set the date for the elections for the Supreme Court’s top post for May 19, in an apparent attempt to secure re-election before Kiska takes office.

“It is an objective fact that the chairman of the Supreme Court divides the judiciary,” Fico said during his presidential campaign on March 22 during a debate. “Thus, if Mr Harabin asked me whether I would propose him to run for chairman of the Supreme Court, I would tell him not to run, that I do not recommend it to him.”

When responding to Fico’s statement, Harabin told Sme that “we are friends with the prime minister. It’s OK”.

Meanwhile, the political ethics watchdog Fair-Play Alliance (FPA) wrote a letter to Harabin, requesting him to secure dignified rooms for the elections, fearing that in line with his previous practice Harabin would summon the session of the Judicial Council to a remote place in Slovakia to reduce the chances of high attendance at the public session.

Harabin responded in the interview that upon Zuzana Wienk’s [the head of FPA] request he will secure the largest possible room available: “If the weather is good even a stadium so that no one can say it was not transparent enough. I will meet this time the request of Ms Wienk, for the first and last time. Because she will have no other rational request, as she has never had. But I need to know the weather forecast.”

Challenger Ďurišová

“With her work, personal attitudes and private life she has proven that she is a personality with high professional and moral credibility,” ZOJ President Katarína Javorčíková said of Ďurišová, as quoted by SITA.

Ďurišová never changed her attitudes, not even under harassment, Javorčíková said, adding that “she was able to criticise the current conditions within the judiciary openly and also in front of the public and the media”. As director of the Judicial Academy she demonstrated her ability to lead a team of people, Javorčíková added.

Sme ran an interview with Ďurišová on April 25, with the judge claiming that the proposed judiciary reform tailored by the ruling Smer party does not really change anything. She also suggested that Harabin is influencing the decisions of judges. When asked about what she means by bringing justice back to the Supreme Court, Ďurišová said that she would insist on a balanced burden for the judges, and that those who were moved to different colleges against their will would be given the option to return. Ďurišová would withdraw disciplinary proceedings against her colleague Gavalec, which she called harassment.

Second round possible

The media sees Bajánková as having a decent chance of getting elected, yet, it could also be the case that no one will win outright on May 19, as candidates will need at least 10 votes to win. The Judicial Council has 17 members and a chairman. A winner must get a majority of the votes and Harabin and Bajánková cannot vote for themselves. The votes will be public.

In the event that no candidate gets enough votes for election, then another vote would be held with the two best performing candidates running. If the new president is not elected in the repeated vote, a new election must be announced within 120 days. However, none of the failed candidates could run again.

SITA speculated that Bajánková might get the higher number of votes, since her candidacy was supported by three members of the Judicial Council: Milan Ďurica, Ľuboš Sádovský and Ján Vanko. Yet, only Sádovský is a nominee of the government in the Judicial Council. Vanko and Ďurica were voted in by the judges themselves. The two remaining nominees of the government, Eva Fulcová and Jaroslav Chlebovič, might support Bajánková as well. The nominees of parliament, Jozef Maruščák and Alena Šišková, might support Bajánková too, since they were elected at a time when the parliament was controlled by Smer, SITA wrote.

Since Harabin was proposed by the ZSS it is expected that Bystrianska, its president, would vote for Harabin. Another judge, Igor Burger, is expected to vote for Harabin as well. Former chairwoman of the Bratislava Regional Court Gabriela Šimonová, who has been at the Supreme Court since 2010 under the management of Harabin, is likely to vote for him too, SITA claimed.

Ďurišová might have two votes guaranteed, those of Dušan Čimo and Rudolf Čirč, as they are close to the ZOJ initiative. There are four “available” votes at the moment, and if these votes go to Bajánková she might become the next president of the Supreme Court. These four votes would not be enough for Harabin to get elected, unless nominees of the government and parliament vote for him.

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