The Zealous Overkill of Bulgaria's Supreme Judicial Council
Without a hearing Bulgaria's Supreme Judicial Council, VSS, dismissed last Thursday Miroslava Todorova, Chair of the Bulgarian Judges Association, BJA, Judge at the Sofia City Court, and 2011 Human of the Year.
The controversial decision became the next huge scandal shaking the embattled justice system and the country. Scandals have long become the signature mark of those attempting to rule Bulgaria after the fall of Communism. One scandal usually topples the previous one, and eventually, sooner or later, all is forgotten. Not lately, though. The recent ones also saw huge protest rallies of people who refuse to continue to put up with the Status Quo established mainly by the long-lasting marriage between the State and the mafia.
In Todorova's case, Bulgarian judges staged an unprecedented walkout rally against the dismissal, the first ever demonstration of magistrates in the country's history. She also received overwhelming support from NGOs, political commentators, citizens, and even some media.
How did a judge accused of and admitting to be dragging cases for years turn into a Hero? In general, not many would side with a magistrate delaying cases, especially if you happen to be on the other side of the slow process - a crime victim hoping for justice.
VSS produced the Hero - by their docility and the desire to please everyone in power.
Bulgarian judges, particularly those in Sofia, are cramped in small rooms; often two of them share one obsolete computer. Reportedly, they try anywhere between 200 and 300 cases a year, meaning that at times they are in the courtroom twice a day to make life-breaking or life-making decisions. I personally know some who secretly take files home (it is against law) to work overtime and without extra pay only to see justice served. In these conditions, almost all and inevitably, delay cases.
At the end of its term, the same VSS which under two different governments became tangled in a number of scandals, decided to finally initiate harsh disciplinary measures starting with the one judge, who gained reputation for her civil position and for being their strongest critic and the strongest critic of Interior Minister, Tsvetan Tsvetanov.
The toughest proponents of the dismissal, Plamen Stoilov and Ivan Kolev, insist that by her actions Todorova has tarnished the image of the judicial system. This is the same Stoilov, who was exposed for ties with notorious lobbyist Krasio the Black, the intermediary between VSS members and magistrates eyeing senior posts. The lobbyist was claiming to be able to "guarantee" the support of 8 to 13 out of a total of 27 members of the VSS.
Kolev made headlines in the summer of 2009 when he revealed that "some guy called Krasio from Pleven" was "selling" senior posts in the judiciary for EUR 200 000. The scandal turned huge, while suspicions about Kolev's unknown and unclear motives still simmer.
This VSS also elected Vladimira Yaneva, a self-admitted close friend of the Interior Minister, Chair of the Sofia City Court, one of the key Courts in the country. By the way, Yaneva has 43 delayed cases and has been punished only by a reprimand. Stoilov is yet to find a sensible explanation of the double standard.
He admits that no one can even think of accusing Todorova of corruption or of helping organized crime (as Tsvetanov does). According to him, she is rather to be blamed for not being able to organize her work and this is why she should be punished...
There are a number of outstanding Bulgarian judges; there are decent people, who delay cases; there are corrupt judges as well. The latter thrive. No one has ever probed them or sanctioned them. No one has probed or sanctioned investigators and/or prosecutors who delay cases in pre-trial stage or collect and present sloppy evidence leading to not-guilty verdicts.
The outrage stirred by Todorova's dismissal is the tip of the iceberg, the expression of what has been cooking in Bulgaria's judicial system for years. It is revolt against the unfair discrepancies in caseloads and workloads, the lack of clear norms for them, the biased treatment of different people, and the endless attacks of Tsvetanov on the judiciary.
The Minister, with a background and a mindset of a policeman, is convinced that everyone who is suspected of criminal activities must be sentenced. He fails to grasp the "innocent until proven guilty" postulate. He wants to force the Courts to issue sentences he and the public want to see. He managed to create a rift between the Judicial and the Executive Powers.
The dismissal would be scandalous at any point in time, but it came just days ahead of the release of the crucial Monitoring Report of the European Commission on Bulgaria's Justice System and Home Affairs under the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism. As expected, the controversial move found its place in the draft, adding one more nail to the coffin.
Bulgaria immediately made the news in western press and was positioned right next to Romania and Hungary as a country threatening democracy and the rule of law.
The renowned Austrian Die Presse wrote that the same principle is in place in politics in Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary – those who are not with us are against us.
In the light of the above, Prime Minister, Boyko Borisov, labeled the dismissal a provocation. We will never know if Tsetanov pressured VSS to fire Todorova or if they did it on their own initiative, on hints that this is what should be done and with the desire to please GERB in general and the Minister in particular.
The lesson that our politicians are yet to learn is that policies such as "those who are not with us are against us" are not inherent of democracy and only work for a certain period of time. The docile and the overly complacent can inflict the most harm. They can turn the most detrimental for a true democratic government. Democratic power needs the thinkers, the critics, and the brave.
The principle of a fair trial for everyone only works when there is a transparent and uncorrupted legal system - something still sadly lacking in Bulgaria. I can well imagine the discouragement felt by police who arrest someone well known to be a criminal, only to see the courts release them through lack of evidence, "incorrect" procedure or more sinister reasons.
Moreover, I am sure that pressure is put on both police and their families by the release of none-too-smart criminals who will no doubt want to both gloat about it and exact some kind of revenge on those poorly-paid paid people who dare to challenge their control of so many facets of our society.
As an ex-lawyer, I support the theory of Justice For All, but it seems to me that in the present state of the country a better approach might be to paraphrase Simon de Montfort:
"Jail them all - God will know his own!" ;)