Bulgaria’s SJC on media offensive over sacked judges’ union chief

Bulgaria’s Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) used its July 16 meeting to go on a media offensive to justify its decision to sack Miroslava Todorova, the head of the union of Bulgarian judges, last week.

Todorova was fired on July 12 for late filings of verdict reasoning in three court cases. The decision prompted an outpouring of support for Todorova, one of the council’s most vocal critics, and more criticism for the SJC, which was accused of using double standards in its disciplinary proceedings as well as carrying out the orders of Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov, another frequent target of Todorova’s criticism.

The council’s members spent the meeting – ostensibly called by Justice Minister Diana Kovacheva for the SJC to review its disciplinary proceedings and deal with accusations of employing double standards – attacking Todorova’s track record as a judge.

Her two defenders were chief prosecutor Boris Velchev, who said that the council appeared “idiotic” by failing to explain the reasons for its sacking of Todorova, and the head of the Supreme Court of Cassation Lazar Grouev, who said that the SJC consistently failed to deal with the issue of overworked judges in Sofia.

Earlier in the day, Interior Minister Tsvetanov went on his own media offensive, appearing on the breakfast TV show of public broadcaster BNT, during which he attempted to marginalise the protest of 200 magistrates on July 13 in front of the SJC headquarters, as well as accuse Todorova’s supporters of pursuing a political agenda.

Tsvetanov also rebuked President Rossen Plevneliev, who said earlier that the case was undermining the council’s credibility, saying that Plevneliev’s statement came without sufficient knowledge of the specifics of the case.

Tsvetanov has repeatedly clashed with Todorova over the past year, even accusing the judge of collaborating with organised crime, a statement for which Todorova is suing Tsvetanov for slander.

Todorova herself, who remains on the job until she is formally presented with an official notice of the SJC’s decision, said on July 15 that she feared the SJC’s meeting would turn into a concerted attack on her, instead of focusing on the issues of chronic overworking of Sofia judges and creating the best work conditions for the country’s magistrates.

She said earlier that she planned to appeal the sacking and, given that she was not given the opportunity to appear in front of the SJC disciplinary committee, was likely to win the case in front of the Supreme Administrative Court, based on the high court’s previous track record on similar cases, media reports said.

The row also comes less than a week before the European Commission’s annual progress report under the Co-Operation and Verification Mechanism, meant to bring Bulgaria’s judiciary in line with European Union standards in the judicial field. The report is due on July 18.

Previous reports have consistently criticised Bulgaria for failing to do enough to reform the judiciary; the SJC’s poor track record with appointments in the judiciary, in particular, has often been criticised in previous reports.

Over the past two years, the reports have gained further importance as the main stumbling block in Bulgaria’s way of joining the Schengen visa-free travel area.

(Photo: Jason Morisson/sxc.hu)



Alex Bivol

Alex Bivol is the Deputy Editor-in-Chief of The Sofia Globe.