Vilification of suspended Judge Maciej Ferek. Illegal neo-NCJ and Ziobro’s former classmate in action
The illegal and politicised neo-NCJ turns itself into a lynch mob and turns citizens against Judge Maciej Ferek from Kraków. It publishes protected court surveillance footage in conflict with the law and breaches the secrecy of correspondence in order to discredit the judge.
The neo-National Council for Judiciary is using its official Twitter account to launch a smear campaign against Judge Maciej Ferek of the Regional Court in Kraków. The attack is no accident, because Ferek is currently the last illegally suspended judge in Poland. He was suspended in November 2021 by the now liquidated Disciplinary Chamber, for applying EU law.
The neo-NCJ is now striking at him to discredit him in the eyes of the public and because it does not like the fact that the judge is seen to be a victim of repression for defending the rule of law.
Perhaps this is just a coincidence, but the judge is vilified at a time when the PiS government wants to make a deal with the European Commission to unblock billions for Poland for the National Recovery Plan.
Meanwhile, one of the conditions for unblocking these funds is that all suspended judges are to return adjudication. Meanwhile, the illegal NCJ, staffed mainly by associates of the ministry of Minister Zbigniew Ziobro – an opponent of an agreement with the EC – is doing everything it can to destroy Maciej Ferek’s image.
Disclosure of surveillance footage
The latest vilification of the judge took place on Wednesday 1 February 2023. Footage from the internal surveillance of the Regional Court in Kraków from September 2022 was then revealed on the neo-NCJ’s Twitter account. Judge Ferek can be seen on the footage carrying a desk out of his office in the court. We write later in the article why the judge did this.
The problem is that the neo-NCJ may have breached the law. Firstly, it revealed the footage from the court’s surveillance, which is legally protected. And access to it is restricted. The police, the prosecutor’s office or a court handling proceedings are the only establishments from outside the court that can, in principle, obtain such recordings. Secondly, the neo-NCJ breached Judge Ferek’s personal rights by posting this recording.
After all, the neo-NCJ itself seems to have arrived at the conclusion that the posting of the recording is illegal. Because it removed it from Twitter on the same day. However, there are still two postcards on its account, which Ferek sent from foreign trips to neo-NCJ member Dagmara Pawełczyk-Woicka. The judge believes that posting them on Twitter breaches the secrecy of correspondence.
The current head of the neo-NCJ, Dagmara Pawczyk-Woicka, is responsible for the content that appears on the neo-NCJ account. She is Minister Ziobro’s former classmate. She was also the president of the Regional Court in Kraków, where she fell into conflict with the Kraków judges. She applied official repression against them. Including against Maciej Ferek.
The current vilification of the judge may be a continuation of that conflict.
How the neo-NCJ is striking at Judge Ferek
The footage from the surveillance at the Regional Court in Kraków from September 2022 which was posted in the neo-NCJ’s Twitter account – and quickly removed – was short. It showed Maciej Ferek moving a desk in the court’s corridor.
The neo-NCJ posted the video to show behaviour that is allegedly reprehensible and unbecoming of the judicial office. However, the whole context of the case, which is already dubbed ‘deskgate’ in the Kraków court, was not presented.
And Judge Ferek himself believes he is being harassed by the authorities of the Kraków court because of his commitment to the defence of free courts and the rule of law. This involves various official sanctions. And they started when Dagmara Pawełczyk-Woicka, the current head of the neo-NCJ, was president of that court. It was she who suspended him for a month in October 2021 for questioning the status of neo-judges on the basis of the ECtHR’s and CJEU’s judgments. And Pawełczyk-Woicka, among others, is also such a neo-judge.
As a consequence of her decision, the judge was later suspended indefinitely by the illegal Disciplinary Chamber, while Minister Ziobro’s disciplinary commissioner initiated disciplinary action against him. Ferek, however, continued to appear in court, demonstrating that he is prepared to work. A neo-judge was assigned to his office in the court in May 2022.
The judge felt aggrieved. He believes this was deliberate because other judges have larger offices. Then someone knocked over all his belongings in his office. The situation escalated. The judge finally took out the additional desk that was put in to his office (because the extra judge was not yet at work) and, in September 2022, he moved it to the division manager’s office.
And footage with this desk has now been posted – briefly – by the neo-NCJ in Twitter.
Postcards – breach of secrecy of correspondence
In addition, two postcards that Ferek had sent to Dagmara Pawełczyk-Woicka at the neo-NCJ’s address were published. The first is from Majorca in January 2023, while the second is from Athens in November 2022. Their content is ironic. The judge writes in them about the successes of the repressed judges, including the reinstatement of Judge Piotr Gąciarek and his application to the ECtHR.
The publication of these cards by the neo-NCJ is intended to show that the judge is not doing badly while suspended. That despite having as much as half of his salary cut by the Disciplinary Chamber, he can afford to travel abroad.
This is not the first time the neo-NCJ has attacked Judge Ferek on Twitter. The Council posted a fragment of a meeting in November 2022 where it discussed Ferek’s behaviour in the court. Some members of the Council even suggested that the judge was mentally ill.
After this meeting, the neo-NCJ reported the judge to Minister Ziobro’s disciplinary commissioner. And new disciplinary charges were pressed against the judge for ‘deskgate’ in December 2022.
It is not insignificant to the case that Judge Ferek is fighting off the Disciplinary Chamber’s decision to suspend him. And he has already had success. Because the court in Rzeszów, ordered his salary to be paid, as a so-called interim measure, after it had been reduced (for one month) by the Chamber. The judge went to the bailiff with this, who initiated enforcement against the Regional Court in Kraków, which may have angered its new management. Because it was the new president of this court, Bartłomiej Migda, who turned to the neo-NCJ for help in Ferek’s case.
That is not all. Judge Ferek lost his official access to the court in January. He was not given a new access card to the building. His access to his office at the court was also taken away.
How Ziobro’s nominees are repressing the Kraków judges
Judge Ferek is not the only Kraków judge being repressed. This environment was subjected to strong pressure and repression because it is known throughout Poland for its hard line defence of the rule of law. And the then president of this court, Dagmara Pawełczyk-Woicka, among others was behind this repression.
She forcibly transferred four judges to other divisions for implementing the ECtHR’s and CJEU’s judgments. These were Judges Wojciech Maczuga, Beata Morawiec, Katarzyna Wierzbicka and Maciej Czajka (she transferred him from the criminal division to the civil division, but later withdrew from the transfer of this judge).
She also transferred Judge Waldemar Żurek, a former spokesman of the legal NCJ, as punishment. He was the first Polish judge forcibly transferred to another division under the current government.
In addition to Ferek, Pawełczyk-Woicka also suspended Judge Anna Głowacka for a month for implementing the ECtHR’s and CJEU’s judgments. Numerous disciplinary actions are also being conducted by Minister Ziobro’s commissioners against the Kraków judges. The record holder is Judge Żurek, who has more than 20 disciplinary actions, including those initiated by Pawełczyk-Woicka.
But disciplinary actions are also being conducted against Judge Dariusz Mazur, press officer of the Themis association of judges and Maciej Czajka.
Ziobro’s public prosecution service is also trying to groundlessly prosecute Kraków judges – namely Judges Żurek, Morawiec, Czajka and Maczuga. This shows how tense the situation is in the Kraków court and that Judge Ferek is one of the victims of the attempt to break the Kraków judges. This shows the whole context of the matter. Meanwhile, the neo-NCJ only publishes selected information, with appropriate commentaries of its own.
Judge Ferek: I will take legal action against the neo-NCJ
Judge Maciej Ferek announces that he will not forgive the neo-NCJ for the Twitter campaign against him. He tells OKO.press: ‘This is material for a personal rights action against this account’s administrator. My good name, image and secrecy of correspondence have been breached.’ Article 23 of the Polish Civil Code states that everyone’s name, image, honour and secrecy of correspondence constitute personal property.
Ferek adds: ‘A vilification is taking place against me with the state’s money, in the state’s social media account. I am connecting the release of the surveillance footage and the cards with the fact that I initiated enforcement proceedings against the court for the payment of my reduced salary. I am also the last suspended judge and therefore they want to vilify me as a judge and a person.’
‘The whole matter is a result of management by conflict by the court’s leadership. But I won’t let go. I will not allow my good name to be tarnished and my competence as a judge and my professional and moral aptitude to be undermined. I shall defend my dignity. Especially since all boundaries have now been crossed.’ – says Ferek.
Why did he send Pawełczyk-Woicka cards from his foreign trips? They have now been used against him by showing that he travels around the world and can afford it, even though his salary was cut by as much as half.
Ferek says: ‘I am on forced leave. Pawełczyk-Woicka and Małgorzata Manowska [as the First President of the Supreme Court, she allowed the Disciplinary Chamber to suspend Ferek, despite the CJEU’s interim measure suspending the Chamber – ed.] organised it for me. These cards make a mockery of the repression that befell me for applying European law, which I am experiencing from Pawełczyk-Woicka. However, whenever I leave Kraków, I write a request for formal leave’.
Where does the judge get the finance from for travelling when he only receives half his salary? Ferek replies that his wife, who also works, helps him. And that even a suspended judge has the right to travel freely, even abroad; there is no law against travelling abroad.
Ferek: ‘I was at the marathon in Athens, this is my passion because I run a lot. Especially now, while I am suspended. And I have family in Majorca, so I only paid for the flight. Am I supposed to sit at home for a year and a half, not go anywhere and wait for a phone call informing me that I should return to work? I also have a life and a passion. And the right to a normal life.’
When surveillance footage can be shared
The neo-NCJ and especially the head of the neo-NCJ could be in trouble for posting the surveillance footage of the Regional Court in Kraków in Twitter. Because she is responsible for this account and for what appears in it.
Surveillance recordings are protected by law. And they cannot be freely made available, let alone posted online. This arises from both the EU’s GDPR regulations and national personal data protection laws.
The principles of sharing surveillance footage from the Kraków court are regulated in detail by the internal Security and Orderliness Regulations. Paragraph 9 of the Regulations states:
‘1. In order to ensure the safety of employees and visitors to the court, as well as the protection of property, special surveillance is introduced in the court buildings and in the area around the court buildings, in the form of technical measures enabling the recording of images (surveillance).
2. Subject to clause 4, the recordings of the images are processed exclusively for the purposes for which they were collected and are kept for a period of no more than 3 months from the date of the recording – depending on the technical capabilities of the recording equipment.
3. The data recorded from the surveillance system installed in the court buildings and in the area around court buildings may only be made available to authorised bodies, such as, among others, courts, prosecutor’s offices and the police.
4. If the recordings of the images constitute evidence in proceedings conducted on the basis of the law or it has been found that they can constitute evidence in proceedings, the period referred to in clause 2 will be extended until the proceedings end with a final and binding judgment.’
In other words, such recordings may only be made available to the outside world in connection with proceedings being conducted primarily by the prosecutor’s office, the courts or the police.
Judge Waldemar Żurek, who had an accident in court and is being prosecuted for this by the National Public Prosecutor’s Office, which is trying to press absurd charges against him, found out that it is not easy to obtain such a recording. Żurek wanted to obtain the recording of the accident for his defence, but the court director refused, citing the regulations. The judge only received the recording after filing a complaint with the labour inspectorate.
The head of neo-NCJ: I want to show the public how Ferek behaves
So how did the neo-NCJ come into possession of the court’s surveillance recordings. And on what legal basis did it post them in the Internet. We asked the Regional Court in Kraków and the neo-NCJ about this. We asked for the legal basis for providing the recordings and the objective and legal grounds for posting the recordings in the Internet. We also asked who made the decisions on this and who personally posted the recording in Twitter.
The press officer of the regional court in Kraków responded that the recording was sent in November 2022 by Bartłomiej Migda, the president of the court (with the consent of the court director, who manages the building). The recording was supposed to document Judge Ferek’s behaviour. At that time, President Migda also filed a complaint against the judge with the neo-NCJ. The recording was also sent to the deputy disciplinary commissioner, who initiated disciplinary action against Ferek.
The head of the neo-NCJ, Dagmara Pawełczyk-Woicka, responded to the questions from OKO.press on behalf of the neo-NCJ.
She wrote: ‘The surveillance footage was sent to the National Council of the Judiciary by the management of the Regional Court in Kraków, doing this on its own initiative – the National Council of the Judiciary did not ask for this recording. The head of the NCJ is responsible for the content of the posts on the official Twitter profile of the National Council of the Judiciary.’
And continues: ‘The posting of the surveillance footage is intended to enable the general public to become familiar with the real picture of Judge Maciej Ferek’s actions and therefore provide material for everyone to form their own impression of their real shape and significance, and this especially in view of the repeated public announcements of the interested party himself, which are clearly intended to manipulatively reinterpret his own behaviour and attempt – not without the involvement of certain media centres – to inscribe this into the canon of standard behaviour befitting a judge.
The judge’s behaviour is taking an increasingly extreme form, which is also a source of creation of a media image that gives the judge the approval and justification he expects. The postcards sent by the judge (about 30 in number) are not of a private nature.’
Pawełczyk-Woicka: ‘It should be noted that this complicity of the media in confusing the public takes the form of manipulation involving, among other things, diverting attention from the essence of Judge Maciej Ferek’s actions by emphasising formalistic issues and suggesting a lack of legal grounds for the acquisition and publication of materials, which is unfortunately demonstrated by the content of the journalistic questions being asked today by a representative of OKO.press.’
However, Pawełczyk-Woicka does not give the legal grounds for the disclosure of the surveillance footage on Twitter. Neither does she state in connection with which proceedings and on what legal basis the neo-NCJ obtained the footage from the surveillance, whereas this is crucial. It can only be presumed that the neo-NCJ will be connecting this with the investigation of a complaint filed against Ferek in 2022 by Bartłomiej Migda, president of the Regional Court in Kraków.
We have presented our questions to neo-NCJ and the whole of the response of the head of the neo-NCJ below. Interestingly, neo-NCJ also posted OKO.press’s questions and answers to them in its Twitter account. This demonstrates the collapse of the practices of this body and undermines any trust in it.
OKO.press’s questions to the neo-NCJ regarding Judge Ferek:
Subject: questions from OKO.press
Sender: Mariusz Jaloszewski <[email protected]>
Date: 02/02/2023, 08:53
Please could you answer the questions below. I would like to ask for a response today, because of a publication that is being prepared.
A surveillance video from the court from September 2022 showing Judge Maciej Ferek carrying a desk down the court corridor was posted yesterday in the NCJ’s Twitter account. The video was later removed, but was downloaded by numerous people. Judge Ferek’s correspondence to Dagmara Pawelczyk-Woicka was also posted in the same account. I would therefore like to ask for the following information:
- By what procedure, when, on what legal basis and as a result of whose decision did the NCJ come into possession of the surveillance footage from the Regional Court in Kraków.
- Did the NCJ ask for it to be provided. If so, who requested it and when and on what legal basis.
- Who at the court made the decision to release the surveillance footage and on what legal basis.
- Who physically posted the surveillance footage in the NCJ’s account. Did Dagmara Pawełczyk-Woicka approve this. Who decided to post the video on the NCJ’s account and what purpose was it intended to serve. What legal interest is behind this.
- Did Dagmara Pawełczyk-Woicka come into possession of this footage while she was still president of the Regional Court in Kraków. If so, on what basis? Was she able to take the recording out of court and use it at her discretion.
- Who decided to disclose Judge Ferek’s correspondence sent to Dagmara Pawełczyk- Woicka. Did D. Pawełczyk-Woicka approve this. What is the purpose of this and is it a breach of the secrecy of correspondence.
Mariusz Jałoszewski, OKO.press
Translated by Roman Wojtasz
The article was published in Polish in OKO.press on February 4, 2023.