What would you do in his place?
István Keviczki had been a criminal judge in economic cases. In December 2018, after 6 years of contemplation, he decided to resign and gave an interview to valaszonline.hu Among other things, he talked about the power struggle between Orbán and the justice system, the obstruction of justice in corruption cases by the prosecutors, the threats to the independence of the judiciary, and the new administrative courts.
The most important statements from the interview:
- As a criminal judge in economic cases, it was obvious that only those without political support can ever get on trial.
“I rule in financial cases, and Peter Polt’s office of prosecution is selective in exactly such cases, they decide what becomes a criminal case and what doesn’t.”
“Take the investigation against Elios that was closed in the absence of crime. It is a typical example. Reading the report of OLAF, the European anti-fraud office, makes one think that a tough criminal case will follow.”
“It was foreseeable that none of my colleagues would see the case… If there is no indictment, there can be no ruling. I could endlessly list the examples of investigative journalists trying to do the prosecutors’ job, but if their articles end up pointing at crimes, the prosecution says they don’t investigate based on media reports.”
“It is very hard to be the judge when … the accused sitting in front of me knows that he has no political protection, that’s why he was indicted, while he knows perfectly well that others in similar cases will never get there. How can I be a credible judge like this?”
- The cases that are never brought to justice are just as heavy on their conscience as the ones they rule on.
- The way new judges are appointed is illegal.
“Today, judges are visibly pressurized, there is an open power struggle, and that’s incompatible with the ethos of being a judge.”
“When judges are afraid, they can be manipulated politically.”
“One of my colleagues said that this is exactly what the power wants. They applauded when they see your resignation because that’s exactly what they want. For judges with a strong conscience to leave and be replaced by loyalists.”
“As a judge I wasn’t allowed to give interviews, but as a former criminal judge I can credibly report about the obstruction of criminal justice and the marginalization of the entire justice system. This is how I try to help my former colleagues so that they don’t have to make my decision.”
- Sending older judges into retirement (2012) and annulling all their decisions regarding the 2006 riots (when Orbán refused to accept election defeat and his followers erupted in violent protests in Budapest) made him start thinking about his resignation – even if it didn’t affect any of his rulings.
- Judges are split between rebellion and money. The promise of judges’ salaries to reach European levels (“judges’ life path model”) obviously attracts some – even though they claim that the dignity of the profession and protecting the image of the justice system motivate them to submit to political will.
- 99.9% of cases are still free from manipulation, because the political elite has realized that interfering with every single case is beyond their capacity, but that’s why they will introduce the new courts and have Patyi as its head, so that they can keep the politically sensitive cases in their hand.
If you think a Hungarian judge is a juicy job for life, think again. The profession is so underpaid, it became thoroughly feminized. 70% of Hungarian judges are women, and that’s because the judiciary doesn’t belong under the government – unlike the prosecution – and thus it is financially … discouraged. A 2016 research on judges’ pay reported it to be in the bottom in the European league – and that’s just in proportion average salaries in each country. In the same year, the average salary was 620 euros in Hungary, and the average judge made twice that. This is what judges talk about when they say “judges’ life path model”. For those who stay and submit, there is a carrot promised.
Power struggle between the judiciary and the government has been constant since Orbán came back in power in 2010. Orbán didn’t tolerate any control on his power, so he first retired judges (2012), then he put a completely new office on top of the court system, tasked with placing politically sensitive cases to loyalist judges, regardless of geographical logic. The new office was led by a loyalist, a Fidesz MEPs wife, who has been at war with the judges ever since.
So far she had failed to completely subdue them, but it wasn’t for the lack of trying. In the long, nasty war between her and the judges, she tried many dirty tricks, including the elimination of the very committee that was tasked to oversee her. Under the rule of law that would be a scandal that would bring down her office. Here, nothing will happen.
Last week, her office distributed the names and tax numbers of judges who belonged to a disobedient employee association, for instance. And why the tax number? Because the tax office is the most effective and most feared fist of the party.
The judges’ resistance was fueled by the Polish judges’ struggle against the Orbán-aping Kaczynski regime. But in the end they were not so much broken but circumvented. Last December, the Fidesz supermajority in parliament passed a new law setting up an entire, parallel court system to handle politically sensitive cases such as protests, elections, public procurement and politicians. And the new courts will be stuffed with young, hungry and loyalist judges, who will surely also be better paid. After that, the “judges life path model” will be poverty and irrelevance, unless they are allowed to join the ranks of administrative court judges.
Keviczki also talks about the open secret that András Patyi will be the new head of the administrative courts from 2020, the same guy who was humiliated publicly by Orbán, and who then apologized to him for issuing a mini-fine (or being unable to stop the election committee from issuing one, to be precise). After the public humiliation by Orbán, Patyi received juicy appointments, he is dean of the Public Service University, Orbán’s new factory of loyalists, and he is tipped to get the money taken away from the Academy of Science. Among other things.
Featured image: Vörös Szabolcs valaszonline.hu