Disciplinary commissioner attacks a group of 14 judges organizing help for harassed judges
Disciplinary Commissioner Przemysław Radzik attacks the authorities of an informal group of judges, which helps defend the independence of the courts and provides support to repressed judges. The commissioner pressed disciplinary charges against them, including the chairperson of this group, Bartłomiej Starosta, and Judge Waldemar Żurek
Disciplinary charges were pressed against 14 judges from the Judges’ Cooperation Forum (Forum Współpracy Sędziów).
Deputy Disciplinary Commissioner for Judges Przemysław Radzik announced this in a press release on Wednesday, 22 July 2020.
The charges were pressed against five appellate judges, five regional court judges, and four district court judges.
All of them are associated with the Judges’ Cooperation Forum, an informal agreement of independent judges, which substitutes the association of judges that was heavily restricted by the Law and Justice (PiS) government and the National Council of the Judiciary accepted by PiS.
The forum protects the independence of judges, passes resolutions to defend the free courts and primarily helps repressed, rebellious judges. All the signs are that all the judges in the governing bodies of the Judges’ Cooperation Forum have been charged.
Radzik demands that the judges comply with the muzzle act
Disciplinary Commissioner Przemysław Radzik accuses 14 judges of concealing their membership of the Judges’ Cooperation Forum and concealing their involvement in its authorities, i.e. in the Standing Presidium of the Judges’ Cooperation Forum. In his opinion, they should disclose this in their declarations of membership of associations – including associations and foundations – which judges are required to submit from 2020.
The obligation to disclose the public activities of judges was introduced by the so-called muzzle act. It was enacted to intimidate independent judges with draconian penalties (including dismissal) and to discourage them from criticizing changes in the courts by inciting a chilling effect.
The objective was also to discourage judges from questioning the legality of the new NCJ and the new Chambers of the Supreme Court appointed by PiS, as well as the legality of the judges promoted by the new NCJ, under the threat of penalties.
Now, Commissioner Radzik believes this group of 14 judges committed a disciplinary offence of an “obvious and gross breach of the law.”
That is why he instituted disciplinary proceedings and charged them. Radzik believes that, by not providing information about their membership of the Forum in their declarations, the judges also breached the dignity of the judicial office, because they are not respecting the law passed by PiS.
Radzik attacks the authorities of the Judges’ Cooperation Forum
Radzik’s attack on the authorities and members of the Judges’ Cooperation Forum is no accident.
The forum was established in 2017, when it was already known that PiS would breach the Constitution and dissolve the old and legal National Council of the Judiciary, which has the task of protecting the independence of judges. The current NCJ, which is staffed mainly by judges who chose to cooperate with the Minister Ziobro’s ministry, is not fulfilling this role. This is why the Judges’ Cooperation Forum was established. The Forum associates judges from all over Poland and is not under the control of the current authorities.
The Forum is informal. It is not a registered organization, but a loose agreement of several hundred judges who exchange opinions and develop positions on matters regarding free courts. The Forum is also a substitute of the independent association of judges, which has almost been abolished by the muzzle act.
The Forum passes resolutions and has an intervention team that provides support – mainly legal – to judges who are being harassed with disciplinary action by Ziobro’s disciplinary commissioners and to judges against whom Ziobro’s prosecution office wants to press criminal charges for their judicial work. Despite being without legal personality, over several years, the JCF has developed into an important element of the defence of judicial independence.
Therefore, the current strike at the JCF by Ziobro’s disciplinary commissioner is no accident and could create a chilling effect on other judges involved in the JCF.
The names of the judges against whom disciplinary charges were pressed are not known because the disciplinary commissioner has not disclosed them.
The pro-government portal, wPolityce, writes that charges were pressed against the chairperson of the JCF, Bartłomiej Starosta, a member of the largest association of judges, Iustitia, and judge, Waldemar Żurek, former press officer of the legal NCJ, member of the management board of the Themis association of judges, who has great merits for defending the free courts.
However, the content of the disciplinary commissioner’s statement and the publication in wPolityce suggest that almost all judges in the Standing Presidium of the Judges’ Cooperation Forum, namely in the Forum’s authorities, were charged.
Three people from the JCF’s top authorities have been charged: Bartłomiej Starosta, chairperson of the JCF from the District Court in Sulęcin, Agnieszka Niklas-Bibik, deputy chairperson of the JCF from the Regional Court in Słupsk and Waldemar Żurek, deputy chairperson of the JCF from the District Court in Kraków.
11 members of the Presidium of the JCF were also charged. They were Michał Bober from the Court of Appeal in Gdańsk, Jerzy Geisler from the Court of Appeal in Poznań, Aleksandra Janas from the Court of Appeal in Katowice, Rafał Jerka from the Court of Appeal in Olsztyn, Grzegorz Kasicki from the Court of Appeal in Szczecin, Robert Kirejew from the Court of Appeal in Katowice, Krzysztof Kozłowski from the District Court in Wysokie Mazowieckie, Tomasz Marczyński from the District Court in Bełchatów, vice-president of Iustita, Justyna Małłek – Napierała from the District Court in Leszno, Jerzy Nawrocki from the Court of Appeal in Lublin and Katarzyna Wesołowska–Zbudniewek from the Regional Court in Łódź.
JCF Chairperson: disciplinary charges are a further form of harassment of judges
The JCF Presidium consists of 15 people, but 14 judges have been charged because one of the Presidium members, Judge Jacek Niedzielski, is a judge of the Voivodship Administrative Court in Gorzów Wielkopolski and the disciplinary commissioner for the judges of the ordinary courts cannot prosecute him.
Besides, the obligation to submit declarations of membership of associations applies to judges of the ordinary courts.
Interestingly, Michał Lasota, the other deputy disciplinary commissioner of judges, is a member of the Forum (a delegate). He was elected to it by judges from the home court in Nowe Miasto Lubawskie. Lasota was elected to the Forum before becoming a disciplinary commissioner in mid-2018 and before he started to prosecute independent judges. He even ran for membership of the Presidium of the Forum itself, but did not receive support.
Lasota is still with the JCF and did not disclose this in his declaration regarding his activities in associations. Will his colleague, Przemysław Radzik, or the chief disciplinary commissioner, Piotr Schab, now press disciplinary charges against him for this?
These are further disciplinary charges for rebellious judges
Durther disciplinary cases have been brought against some judges from the JCF’s authorities by minister Ziobro’s disciplinary commissioners through disciplinary charges. The following have previously been charged:
– Bartłomiej Starosta, JCF chairperson. He has several disciplinary cases, mainly because he did not consider the proceedings initiated by Ziobro’s disciplinary commissioner to be legal and refused to attend a hearing to provide explanations.
– Waldemar Żurek, who is being harassed for his tough line in defence of the courts when he was the press officer of the old, legal NCJ. Now he has several disciplinary cases, including two for contesting the legality of electing Kamil Zaradkiewicz to the office of judge of the Supreme Court.
– Aleksandra Janas has a disciplinary case together with Judge Irena Piotrowska for asking legal questions of the Supreme Court about the status of a judge promoted by the new NCJ.
– Tomasz Marczyński may be charged, together with a group of 14 other district court judges from the region of the Regional Court in Piotrków Trybunalski. They are being prosecuted by the local disciplinary commissioner for signing a letter to the OSCE requesting it to monitor the presidential elections by correspondence, which were planned for 10 May. The case is currently in the investigation phase. It may end with charges being pressed or the case being discontinued.