Ziobro takes the courts in Poznań. When the lawyers found out who the new presidents were, they thought it was a joke
The new presidents of the Poznań courts had not been promoted for years; they had low appraisals, they made mistakes that were sometimes so embarrassing as sentencing innocent people. Now Ziobro is giving them a huge amount of power. The judges have been stirred up.
by Piotr Żytnicki, Gazeta Wyborcza
It took Minister of Justice Zbigniew Ziobro seven years to take over at the two most important courts in Poznań – the regional court and the court of appeal. He has just filled the managerial positions with fully loyal nominees – he did this arbitrarily, without consulting the judicial community.
The new presidents, whose names the judges already know, will take over the reins at the beginning of May.
A court that is independent of Ziobro
The Poznań courts – like the whole of Poznań – have never been a bastion of the ‘good change’. If Ziobro’s irritation could be measured by the number of disciplinary proceedings, then the judges from Poznań have really got under his skin. They have been passing judgments in line with the law and their own conscience, and not in line with the thoughts of the authorities.
The most famous were the acquittals of participants in the anti-government protests, including Notary Public Joanna Jaśkowiak, today a Civic Coalition MP. When passing that judgment, Judge Sławomir Jęksa criticised PiS’s breach of the rule of law in Poland. And encountered disciplinary action.
It was the courts in Poznań that declared the detention of the well-known lawyer, Roman Giertych, illegal. They also refused to arrest the suspects in the alleged scandal that was supposed to bring Giertych down. When he saw that he could achieve nothing in Poznań, Ziobro moved the investigation to Lublin.
The judges from Poznań also criticised the changes in the judiciary and maintained solidarity for seven years.
It even happened that there was a shortage of people for passing judgment in the higher courts: the older people were retiring, while the younger ones did not want to be promoted because they would have to face the politicised National Council of the Judiciary, which they do not accept.
‘Now this beautiful time may be coming to an end,’ fears one of the experienced judges. ‘This will be a test of character: who will have a spine, who can be bought.’
Zbigniew Ziobro did not have his own people
The six-year terms of office of Andrzej Daczyński, the president of the court of appeal, and Krzysztof Lewandowski, president of the regional court, will come to an end in a few weeks. ZIobro also appointed them 2017, but he then still took into account the opinion of the judicial community.
Daczyński and Lewandowski had the support of the judges. Meanwhile, Ziobro was just starting his assault on the judiciary – he did not yet have his people in the regional and appeal courts.
A great deal has changed in six years. Judges who had not been promoted for years were found. Ziobro opened up the path for their dream careers. Despite their poor results and negative appraisals, the new NCJ recommended them for promotions, while President Andrzej Duda handed them nominations.
Bartoszek and Jurkiewicz take the helm
Two criminal court judges had the most spectacular promotions: Mateusz Bartoszek and Daniel Jurkiewicz. According to our findings, they are the ones on whom Ziobro is now relying.
Bartoszek will manage the court of appeal from May, while Jurkiewicz will manage the regional court. Both have been protagonists of several of our articles.
When PiS came to power, Jurkiewicz was an ordinary judge of the District Court in Chodzież. He was reproached for the poor quality of his judgments – many of his decisions were changed or overturned.
It was only the fact that Judge Marek Jaskulski from Poznań was his acquaintance which opened the path to his career. Jurkiewicz helped Jaskulski get into the new NCJ, which decides on promotions: he entered his candidature and signed his list of support. He then did it again when Jaskulski was applying for a second term.
Jaskulski managed to return the favour. Today Jurkiewiecz is a judge of the Regional Court in Poznań – he adjudicates in the criminal division on the most serious cases: rapes, murders and organised crime groups. In the meantime, he was also president of the District Court in Wągrowiec – a distinction he received from Ziobro.
Ziobro appreciates, Bartoszek is promoted
Bartoszek’s story is similar. He adjudicated in a court in Poznan’s Old Town for 20 years and was never promoted. Although he defended himself with his statistics, other judges questioned his competence. They pointed out that he convicted a person without any evidence of guilt, breaking the fundamental principle of the presumption of innocence. This embarrassing blunder was later corrected by the court of the second instance, but the distaste remained.
Bartoszek also supported Jaskulski’s candidacy to the new NCJ. Then, the same NCJ with Jaskulski as its member, nominated him for promotion to the regional court.
The judges told us that examples of Jaskulski, Bartoszek and Jurkiewicz illustrate perfectly well how one hand washes the other: people who, in normal times, could not be promoted, support each other and climb the ladder.
Minister Ziobro already appreciated Bartoszek earlier – he appointed him president of the court in Poznań’s Grunwald. Bartoszek was also made president of the disciplinary court for the judges in Poznań.
What will Ziobro’s nominees do?
As presidents of the regional and appeal courts, Ziobro’s nominees will be given a considerable amount of power. Admittedly, they are not allowed – at least theoretically – to interfere with the content of judgments passed, but they can freely transfer judges between divisions. For example, Judge Jęksa, a brilliant and independent criminal judge, could suddenly find himself in the civil or commercial division simply for falling out with the authorities.
Presidents can also change heads of divisions and select people to work with them.
Minister Ziobro signed Jurkiewicz’s and Bartoszek’s appointments last week. The judges have now found out about them. They are moved. ‘We expect the worst, although it is possible that the new presidents will withhold from making purges until after the parliamentary elections. They may already be calculating what will happen to them if PiS is ousted,’ one judge tells us.
Bartłomiej Przymusiński, press officer of the association of judges, Iustitia, and a judge from Poznań says: ‘Bartoszek’s and Jurkiewicz’s nominations show that, despite almost eight years of Ziobro’s rule, all he has left are people without any authority within the environment. They think they were promoted, but their promotion will pass with Ziobro. Whereas the shame will remain.’
The news of the appointments is also spreading to other Poznań lawyers. One attorney could not believe it for a long time when he heard the names of the new presidents: ‘This sounds like a good joke. I thought someone was having me on.’
Translated by Roman Wojtasz
The article was published in Polish in Gazeta Wyborcza, February 28th 2023.