Ziobro’s people go after the judge protecting her child, while Żurek is facing his 20th disciplinary action
Three new disciplinary cases have been initiated against Judge Żurek. A judge who refused to disclose her child’s illness is also being prosecuted, while another has been transferred on disciplinary charges for applying EU law
On Monday, 7 March, Judge Waldemar Żurek of the Regional Court in Kraków collected his letters from the post office. After opening the envelopes he took out as many as five notices regarding disciplinary cases being filed against him. Two were related to pending cases and three are new proceedings just being initiated.
The judge already has a total of 20 disciplinary proceedings. And he has the most in Poland – he is the judge who is most persecuted for defending the free courts. Three new cases against him are pending on the instructions of the president of the Kraków court, Dagmara Pawełczyk-Woicka, a member of the neo-NCJ. She has also requested the prosecution of another Kraków judge on disciplinary charges, Maciej Czajka.
Disciplinary action was also taken against Judge Paulina Asłanowicz of the Court of Appeal in Warsaw. Disciplinary charges were brought against her by Deputy Disciplinary Commissioner Michał Lasota. The judge’s ‘fault’ is that she belongs to an association that helps people suffering from a certain chronic disease. Her child also suffers from it.
Asłanowicz disclosed her membership of the association by making a declaration to that effect, which was forced on judges and prosecutors by PiS’s Muzzle Act. However, she did not give the name of the organisation so that it would not be publicly known what disorder her child is suffering from. However, Lasota did not like this and filed disciplinary charges against her for that.
Judge Anna Ptaszek of the Regional Court in Warsaw also experienced administrative repression. The court’s vice-president, Przemysław Radzik – who is simultaneously the deputy chief disciplinary commissioner – has just transferred her on disciplinary charges to another division of the court. The judge will no longer adjudicate on important criminal trials, but will execute the decisions of other judges.
This is a punishment for the judge’s refusal to adjudicate with a neo-judge when enforcing ECtHR and CJEU judgments.
How Ziobro’s president is picking on Żurek
Tomasz Szymański, deputy disciplinary commissioner at the Kraków Court of Appeal initiated three new disciplinary cases against Judge Waldemar Żurek of the Regional Court in Kraków on 21 February 2021. The proceedings are investigative for now – they may end in a refusal to prosecute the judge or in disciplinary charges.
However, the local disciplinary commissioners are independent. Judges known for defending the rule of law are primarily being prosecuted by chief disciplinary commissioner Piotr Schab and his two deputies, Przemysław Radzik and Michał Lasota.
Local disciplinary commissioner Szymański had to initiate proceedings against Żurek because the president of the Regional Court in Kraków, Dagmara Pawełczyk-Woicka, demanded this. She is in conflict with the Kraków judges and is applying administrative repression with respect to them. She also suspended two judges, Maciej Ferreka and Anna Głowacka, for a month after they implemented the ECtHR and CJEU judgments.
Pawełczyk-Woicka demanded that the local disciplinary commissioner prosecutes Waldemar Żurek in three cases:
- For failing to inform her of an action filed against the editor-in-chief of TVP’s news programme ‘Wiadomości’. Żurek demanded that ‘Wiadomości’ broadcasts an erratum regarding material from 2020, which quoted the testimony of a witness linking him with irregularities in the Kraków Court of Appeal. The capital’s court of appeal dismissed Żurek’s action in a final verdict in January 2022.
The president is accusing Żurek of failing to inform her about the case, as required by Article 90 of the Act on the structure of courts. The judge tells us that he believes he informed the court president of this. He emphasises that there are dozens of cases – including disciplinary cases and cases in the prosecution service that are pending against him. And more cases are constantly being initiated against him for trivial reasons. And he is overburdened with work in court because the lottery system keeps assigning him to hear new civil actions.
- For making a declaration in September 2021 that he did not want to be drawn into benches with neo-judges. The judge was one of the first in Poland to make such a declaration, arguing the consequences from the fact that the statuses of the neo-NCJ and the neo-judges it nominated were undermined by the ECtHR and the CJEU in their judgments.
A total of 14 judges in the Kraków court have made such declarations. The president threatened that she would request the minister of justice to remove them from the judicial profession.
Judge Zurek is not withdrawing from his declaration.
- For talking to the director of the Regional Court in Kraków, Piotr Słaby, a nominee of Ziobro’s ministry. Judge Maciej Czajka is also facing disciplinary charges in the same case. Żurek went to Słaby in January 2022, together with Czajka and Judge Dariusz Mazur, to ask where their Christmas tree, which they had put up in the lobby of the court before Christmas, was.
The matter of the Christmas tree became highly publicised. It had symbolic decorations referring to current events – LGBT rights, refugee rights and the rule of law, as well as one with the word ‘Constitution’ and the EU flag. The tree was first damaged – all the baubles with the EU flag were broken – and, after the decorations were replenished, someone took it away.
The judges wanted the tree to be returned to them. They received the response that it had been sent to the lost property office, even though they had previously announced that it was their Christmas tree. Apparently, the court director felt hurt by this conversation and prepared a memorandum on it, which now constitutes the basis for initiating an investigation against Judges Żurek and Czajka.
Judge Żurek: I can have as many as 100 disciplinary actions
‘This is a record. They don’t want to suspend me, they are just initiating further disciplinary actions against me. They want to make me stop working because dealing with these proceedings takes up a lot of my time,’ Judge Żurek tells us. He adds: ‘They want to tire me out and then announce that I cannot cope at work.’
He emphasises: ‘I will say what I have said many times before. Even if I have 100 disciplinary actions, I will still be in the front line of the fight for the rule of law. I will not be broken. I have a lot of strength and I will persevere to restore the rule of law. In fact, I feel sorry for them, because it is they who will suffer the consequences in the future.’
Judge Waldemar Żurek is the most persecuted judge in Poland. He already has not only 20 disciplinary cases – the National Prosecutor’s Office is also handling proceedings in his case. He is facing absurd criminal charges for being the victim of an accident at work (the prosecutor’s office assumed that he might want to extort compensation) and for hanging posters in court in defence of a repressed colleague.
The prosecutor’s office questioned the Kraków judges in the middle of February 2022 in the latter case. The prosecutor’s office assumed that Judge Żurek and Judge Wojciech Maczuga may have verbally insulted Court Director Piotr Słaby, who tore down their posters. The matter is baseless because there was an exchange of loose ironic remarks between the director and the judges.
Punishment for caring for a sick child
The case of Judge Paulina Asłanowicz of the Court of Appeal in Warsaw is also controversial. Deputy Disciplinary Commissioner Michał Lasota instituted disciplinary proceedings against her for failing to include the name of an association in a declaration in which she disclosed her membership. Such declarations were forced on judges by the Muzzle Act because PiS wanted to know which organisations judges and prosecutors belonged to. This was primarily about members of the associations of judges, Iustitia and Themis, as well as of the association of independent prosecutors, Lex Super Omnia, disclosing their membership of these associations. They are critical of Zbigniew Ziobro.
However, not all judges and prosecutors have made such declarations, because this breaches their right to social activity and their right to privacy and is in conflict with the Constitution. No one is prosecuting judges for failing to provide such declarations.
Meanwhile, Judge Asłanowicz submitted a declaration and is facing disciplinary action. She did not give the name of the association to which she belongs, because its name specifies the chronic illness from which her child suffers. Had she given it, everyone would have known this. This is because the declarations are public and anyone can read them online. She only stated that this was an association of people and parents of children suffering from a chronic illness.
The judge had an intuition – one of the litigants read her declaration and reported her, claiming that she was terminally ill. The result of the report was that Lasota initiated disciplinary action. He accused Judge Asłanowicz of breaching the Muzzle Act and the dignity of the office of judge. The deputy disciplinary commissioner was not convinced by the judge’s explanations.
‘I don’t want to give the name of the association because I am protecting my child from public stigmatisation and hate actions,’ Judge Paulina Aslanowicz tells us.
She adds: ‘A judge should be protected and not stigmatised for wanting to keep her child safe.’ She emphasises that she is not an active member of the association. She is only a member and attends meetings at which knowledge about the disease is provided.
Transfer of the judge as punishment for applying EU law
Judge Anna Ptaszek of the Regional Court in Warsaw also experienced repression recently. She is a judge with 30 years of experience in adjudicating. She has been adjudicating for 20 years in the 7th criminal division, where she tries cases as a court of the first instance. However, from April 2022, she will no longer preside over criminal trials, because she has been transferred to the division that handles the enforcement of judgments issued by other judges. And she will work here alone.
The decision on the transfer of the judge dated Friday 11 March 2022 was signed by the president of the capital’s Regional Court, Piotr Schab. But it was issued with his authorisation by his deputy, Przemysław Radzik. Reference was made in the decision to the Covid Act – officially, the judge is to strengthen the division that enforces judgments during the epidemic. However, in fact, this is punishment for refusing to rule with a neo-judge.
This is because, at the beginning of March, Anna Ptaszek submitted a declaration in which she stated that she could not adjudicate in one of the cases with neo-judge Iwona Szymańska. She is the judge who was promoted to the Regional Court by the neo-NCJ. Privately, she is EU Minister Konrad Szymański’s wife.
Judge Ptaszek wrote that she cannot adjudicate with her because of the defectiveness of her appointment by the neo-NCJ. She made reference to the judgments of the CJEU, the ECtHR and the Polish Supreme Court, which questioned the legality of the neo-NCJ and the nominations it had given to judges.
The judge submitted this declaration for one more reason. She had already questioned Szymanska’s status earlier – at the end of 2021. Ptaszek was then considering a motion to remove her from adjudicating on the case of Senator Krzysztof Kwiatkowski, and made such a decision for two reasons. First, her husband is a member of the current government (Judge Szymańska herself requested to be removed for this reason), but also because she owes her promotion to the neo-NCJ. In submitting her declaration in March, Judge Ptaszek was simply being consistent.
The vice-president of the Regional Court in Warsaw, Przemysław Radzik (who is also one of the two deputies of the chief disciplinary commissioner) issued a so-called official reprimand for her for this declaration. In it, he stated that another person had to be urgently appointed to handle the case because of her refusal to adjudicate with a neo-judge. Ptaszek announced that she would appeal in the case to the disciplinary court.
Moving the judge to another division will mean that she will leave more than 40 criminal cases that she has been handling. These include commercial cases, cases of murder, and child abuse cases. It is unclear whether the judge will have to finish them. If not, they will have to start all over again, which will strike at the parties to the trials.
Ptaszek: a judge must apply the rulings of the Courts
Judge Anna Ptaszek comments on her transfer as follows: ‘I have not heard that the enforcement division to which I was transferred, needs strengthening. There are numerous cases be adjudicated on in my division.’
She adds: ‘Before the current government, cases used to wait several months for a date to be set of the first trial, but now they are waiting 2–3 years.’
She emphasises that several judges in the 8th Division do not get new cases because they are handling large criminal trials. When she goes, all the other judges will be burdened with even more work. And after all, other than criminal trials, judges also hear motions regarding proceedings of the prosecutor’s office, such as motions for arrests or motions for unjustified detention.
However, Judge Ptaszek does not regret her decision. ‘I consider the transfer to be a reprisal because it is completely unjustified substantively in the court’s HR situation and is harmful to the court and the parties.’
And another of her statements: ‘I am a Polish and a European judge. I applied the rulings of the European Courts, which are binding on me as a judge. And I will not change my legal view. I cannot adjudicate in a bench that can pose a threat of overturning the judgment and a threat of payment of compensation by the state.’
Judge Piotr Gąciarek, who refused to adjudicate with neo-judge Stanisław Zdun (now running for a second term of office in the neo-NCJ), was treated in a similar way to Ptaszek in 2021. He was first removed from hearing criminal cases and was also sent to the division enforcing judgments. When he refused to adjudicate with a neo-judge for a second time, he was suspended by the illegal Disciplinary Chamber.
Translated by Roman Wojtasz
The article was published in Polish at OKO.press.