Judges from four courts said on July 12 2012 that they planned to postpone hearings on their cases and meet at a protest rally in front of the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) on July 13 to protest against the council’s sacking of Miroslava Todorova, the head of the judges union.
Members of the Bench from the Sofia District Court, Sofia City Court and Sofia Court of Appeals, as well as the Supreme Court of Cassation, said in a statement that they would protest against “the double standards” and “lack of principles” shown by the SJC.
The SJC decided on July 12 to fire Todorova, citing three cases in which she had delayed the filing of verdict reasoning after issuing a ruling. SJC member Bozhidar Souknarov, who chaired the hearing, said that Todorova’s actions led to the “undermining of public trust in the judiciary, which is a breach of the ethical code of the magistracy,” as quoted by Bulgarian media.
The sacking led to an immediate backlash from several directions, including Prime Minister Boiko Borissov, who described the decision as “a provocation against the enormous efforts we are making to improve Bulgaria’s image and to reform the judiciary.”
The council has been repeatedly criticised at home and by the European Commission for its non-transparent way of making appointments in the judicial system. Todorova and the judges union have been among the SJC’s most vocal detractors.
While it is in SJC’s power to fire judges, it has repeatedly declined to do so in recent years despite the numerous controversies involving senior judges and members of the council itself – including a case of influence-peddling and a case in which relatives of senior judges cheaply acquired prime property on the Bulgarian seaside.
It has also applied leniency in the cases of other judges found to be slowing the course of justice, most notably in the case of the head of the Sofia City Court, Vladimira Yaneva, who also appeared to be in conflict of interest in one court case closely monitored by the European Commission. Yaneva’s punishment for delays in filing verdict reasoning for dozens of cases was to be “cautioned”.
Todorova has also recently clashed with Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov (a close family friend of Yaneva and seen as the driving force behind her appointment to head the Sofia City Court), who accused the judge of intentionally delaying court proceedings and acting to aid organised crime. She has filed a court action for slander, which is expected to be heard in September.
Todorova’s opposition to the SJC and Tsvetanov was the reason she was sacked, the chairperson of the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, Krassimir Kanev, said. “We have no doubt that the SJC is carrying out a political order and it does so at the end of its term, when many of its members are looking for new jobs and have no one other than the Interior Minister [from whom to get such postings],” he said in a statement on the organisation’s website.
“We must be clear, Todorova is the chairperson of the largest judges union in Bulgaria. This is not just an attack on her personally, it is an attempt to frighten the judiciary,” Kanev said.
The Bulgarian Helsinki Committee designated the judges union the “personality of the year” in its 2011 annual awards given for contributions to human rights and rule of law. Todorova received the award on behalf of the organisation.
The open letter by the judges who plan to protest against Todorova’s sacking made the same points as the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee. “There is no doubt that today’s ruling is not legitimate. There is justified suspicion, however, that it carries out a political directive, the goal of which is transparent – to crush any attempt to change the status quo,” the letter said, as quoted by news website mediapool.bg.
Todorova was not present at the SJC meeting because she was in court at the time. That gives her an avenue to appeal against the firing in the Supreme Administrative Court, which has in recent months overturned other SJC decisions in cases when magistrates were not allowed to defend their position in person during disciplinary hearings, mediapool.bg reported.
(Photo: Jason Morisson/sxc.hu)