Defiant judges under fire for not following the party line
Disciplinary officer Michał Lasota is prosecuting three judges from Gdańsk for a verdict they issued. This is yet another disciplinary case initiated against judges for performing their judicial duties. Disciplinary proceedings for verdicts not only serve to intimidate judges, but also violate their independence.
Deputy disciplinary officer Michał Lasota has just demanded explanations from three judges of the Court of Appeal in Gdańsk. Among them is Włodzimierz Brazewicz, who is involved in defending the independence of courts and in educational activities for youngsters. Officer Lasota wants them to account for a verdict they issued in March 2018.
Judges to account for overturned verdict
In 2018, a three-judge panel including Brazewicz overturned a ruling of the District Court in Elbląg. The case concerned charges in an embezzlement case brought by the prosecutor’s office. The District Court in Elbląg gave the defendants a suspended sentence. However, the Court of Appeal in Gdańsk overturned the verdict after it ruled that there were deficiencies in the evidence. The court questioned the calculations of the damage that the company was said to suffer as a result of the defendant’s actions. The value of the damage is of significance for the classification of the act.
The Court of Appeal found that the lack of evidence was so significant that it would take a long time to remedy. Therefore, it returned the case to the District Court for it to complete the evidence acting as the court of the first instance (the stage at which evidentiary proceedings are conducted; during appeals, evidence can only be supplemented) or to refer the case back to the public prosecutor’s office.
However, a cassation appeal against the judgment was lodged by the public prosecutor’s office, which believes that the Court of Appeal should not overturn the judgment, but rather calculate the damage itself and admit the opinion of court experts. The prosecutor’s office stated that the Court of Appeal should carry out supplemental evidentiary proceedings.
The Supreme Court overturned the judgment of the Court of Appeal from March 2018. The Supreme Court determined that the case does not need to be referred to the court of the first instance, because this is done when the entirety of the evidentiary material requires additions. The Supreme Court decided that in this particular case it would be possible to use some of the documents already collected during the trial.
The case was returned to the Court of Appeal in Gdańsk and another panel completed the missing evidence and issued a final verdict. Now, the deputy disciplinary ombudsman Michał Lasota concludes from the ruling of the Supreme Court that the judges from Gdańsk, in referring the case to the court of first instance, misapplied the provisions of the Criminal Procedure Code. This qualifies as a possible disciplinary offence in the form of “obvious and blatant breach of the law”.
Judge Brazewicz targeted by the disciplinary officer
It is normal practice for higher courts to set aside judgments. That is why there are higher instances, to control the correctness of judgments and their validity. This has never been questioned before.
But things have changed under the current government. Appointed a year ago by Zbigniew Ziobro, the chief disciplinary officer Piotr Schab and his two deputies, Michał Lasota and Przemysław Radzik, began prosecuting judges for their rulings. This has been done to judges known for defending the independence of courts.
It is no coincidence that the officer is now attacking the judgment of the Gdansk court, because judge Vladimir Brazewicz, who issued it, had previously been called to the carpet by the disciplinary ombudsman.
First, he was summoned to give explanations for the fact that he led a meeting in Gdańsk between judge Igor Tuleya and local residents. Then, the disciplinary officer reviewed the quality of Brazewicz’s work, including whether he had drafted written justifications for verdicts after the deadline. And now he is threatened with disciplinary proceedings for this verdict.
Interestingly, this is the only verdict in recent years that has been overturned by the Supreme Court in which Brazewicz was involved. And it seems as if officer Lasota is now grasping at this verdict as an opportunity to bring charges against a defiant judge.
Also significant is the fact that, in several cases, Judge Brazewicz is acting as a defender of other defiant judges being prosecuted by Ziobro’s officer, including Judge Dorota Zabłudowska from Gdańsk, known for her defence of free courts.
Brazewicz is also involved in educational activities. For example, he took part in the trial of the Wolf from the fairy tale of Little Red Riding Hood. This was done as a lesson in the law for children organized in the Supreme Court.
Judges persecuted for rulings
Judge Brazewicz is not the first judge persecuted by the disciplinary officer for their rulings and verdicts. Three judges from the District Court in Kraków were summoned to provide explanations because they sought to check whether the magistrate whose verdict they were to assess in appeal proceedings had been properly appointed – in other words, whether he had been appointed by the legal, old National Council of the Judiciary (KRS), which PiS had dissolved in violation of the Constitution, or by the new KRS, appointed unconstitutionally by MPs of the PiS and Kukiz’15 parties.
Letters sent to the Kraków judges by the chief disciplinary officer, Piotr Schab, contained a warning of serious consequences for permissible judicial activity, as Schab claimed that in their conduct they had exceeded their powers.
Judge Sławomir Jęksa from Poznań, who acquitted Joanna Jaśkowiak, the wife of the Mayor of Poznań, is being pursued by disciplinary proceedings. The disciplinary officer was displeased by the oral justification for this verdict, because the judge referred in it to changes in the judiciary introduced by PiS authorities.
Judge Ewa Mroczek from Działdowo is also being threatened with disciplinary action. She is also accused of improperly discontinuing a case owing to significant formal deficiencies in filings by the prosecution. This ruling was overruled by the Court of Appeal. Now she is being persecuted by the disciplinary officer.
The background to this case is the relationship between Judge Mroczek and Michał Lasota, who lives in Działdowo. During one meeting, Judge Mroczek did not shake his hand. She also gave a cold reception to the new president of the court in Działdowo nominated by Ziobro’s justice ministry.
So far, the most prominent case has been that of Judge Alina Czubieniak from Gorzów Wielkopolski, who is being pursued by the disciplinary officer for the fact that in one ruling she acted in defence of an intellectually disabled boy suspected of sexual harassing a girl.
The judge’s misfortune was due to the case being of interest to Ziobro’s justice ministry. Thus, the judge was subjected to disciplinary proceedings for fair ruling in which, in the opinion of the disciplinary officer, she had based her verdict on the wrong provision. Her punishment was a reprimand from the Disciplinary Chamber of the Supreme Court. This Chamber was established by the ruling PiS party to quickly remove from the profession insubordinate judges, prosecutors, and lawyers.
Judges chased for verdicts by the prosecutor
Judges are also being pursued by prosecutors for activities related to their mandate as judges. Charges have been filed against Igor Tuleya, who ordered an investigation into the voting on the budget by Law and Justice MPs in the Column Hall of the Sejm in December 2016. The justification given for ruling was devastating for PiS. And now, a special team for prosecuting judges and prosecutors National Prosecutor’s Office is reviewing whether he properly allowed journalists into the courtroom and whether he disclosed confidential information when issuing the oral justification for his ruling.
Charges are also looming over Judge Irena Majcher from Opole. She is a judge in the National Court Register. According to the National Prosecutor’s Office, she failed to perform her duties because she did not call on one particular company to re-register, despite the fact that the law imposes the obligation of re-registration on companies. Now the prosecutor is seeking to revoke the judge’s immunity in order to bring charges against her.
Lasota and Radzik with their own quality issues
Judges are being persecuted for their verdicts by two deputy disciplinary officer who themselves are having problems with the quality of their work as justices. These are Michał Lasota and Przemysław Radzik. Both of them were potentially at risk of disciplinary proceedings but will not face them because their boss Piotr Schab determined that there was no cause for objection to their work.
Reservations have been voiced about Radzik, who already has a disciplinary verdict in his file from years ago, regarding the fact that he issues his justification for verdicts after the deadline. Michał Lasota, on the other hand, has had his own judgments overturned by the Court of Appeal. Disciplinary officer Piotr Schab also reviewed whether he had correctly questioned a young girl in a criminal case.
In addition, as we revealed at OKO.press, Lasota has a stack of outstanding cases to deal with in his home court. In one of the cases, a ruling that proceedings were unreasonably protracted has been issued, resulting in a payment of PLN 2,000 in damages. Judges from Elbląg who ruled on the lengthiness of the case have already been summoned to explain themselves to the disciplinary spokseman.
Radzik and Lasota, however, benefit from cooperation with justice minister Ziobro. Radzik is President of the Regional Court in Krosno Odrzańskie, while Michał Lasota is the President of the Regional Court in Nowe Miasto Lubawskie. And under a decision issued by Ziobro’s justice ministry, they both also adjudicate in the District Court in Warsaw.