March 8, 2014
S. Court to stop financing Magistrates Council
The Supreme Court, in its first meeting of 2014 yesterday, decided to send a message to the Executive, pushing for it to revise the national budget: justices are promising to cut the funding that the highest tribunal lends to the Magistrate Council.
“Last year, we provided them funds but not any longer,” a court source said.
As rumours intensified over the past few week about two justices leaving the Court this year, its members did not shy away from discussing possible future changes. However, sources from the Court told the Herald that the look of the bench would remain the same until at least December 31.
“That’s going to be my last day in the Court,” Justice Eugenio Zaffaroni confirmed to the Herald.
The Magistrates Council, which is in charge of the selection of judges, has recently pushed the Kirchnerite administration into facing off with the Supreme Court. Last year, the government sponsored the so-called Judicial Reform package, which included a bill to reform the Council by establishing the direct election of judges who aim to obtain a seat on its bench. But the highest tribunal quashed the reform and declared the law unconstitutional.
So far this year, the message from the justices has been clear: “We are not going to provide funding to the Council. We had been doing that last year but we won’t be repeating it this year.”
As sources explained, three percent of the National Budget is set aside for the Judiciary. The Supreme Court receives 0.78 percent and the rest goes to the Council, which has to pay the wages of judges and other judicial employees, while also being expected to administer all other issues that do not fall under the Supreme Court.
But that 2.22 percent that the councilors receive does not seem to be enough.
The Council currently has a debt with the Court of around one billion pesos, which the highest magistrate wants to recover. For that reason, members of the tribunal are willing to start talks with members of the Council as it goes through the process of renewing its own bench.
The ruling Victory Front (FpV) is likely to appoint Congressman Eduardo “Wado” de Pedro, a member of the youth organization La Cámpora and one of the closest allies of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, as one of the councilors. And the Kirchnerite administration will probably replace its representative Hernán Ordiales with current Justice Secretary Julián Álvarez.
“We will talk to the Council members. We don’t want to generate a crisis. We’ll see how we can arrange everything,” a source from the Supreme Court highlighted. It was also revealed that a meeting between Chief Justice Ricardo Lorenzetti and Mario Fera, the head of the Magistrates Council, was scheduled.
In December, Cabinet Chief Jorge Capitanich, after the nationwide police strikes and rebellions, visited the justices for discussions that included this issue. If they meet again, the topic will likely be at the centre of the agenda.
Members of the Court, meanwhile, have wanted to highlight that their administration differs from the Magistrates Council, having even made reference to a report issued by the National General Audit Office led by Leandro Despouy, praising the Court’s performance.
“We have been austere in our attempts to function, not to provide funding to the Council,” they emphasized.
In yesterday’s first annual meeting, justices shared their concerns about economic issues, including the Magistrates Council’s situation. But they also decided to postpone the definition of their agenda until next week.
What Court members could not avoid discussing was the possible departure of certain justices. Carmen Argibay is turning 75 in June and Zaffaroni in January, 2015.
Court sources told this newspaper that last year Argibay said she is not intending to leave after her 75th birthday, which is the limit established in article 99 of the national Constitution. She would technically have until her 76th birthday to remain on the bench.
Zaffaroni, meanwhile, has already publicly confirmed his intention to leave the Court by the end of the year. Sources told the Herald that in their meeting, justices jokingly asked: “Who’s going to stay now during judicial recesses?”
Zaffaroni always stays in January while the rest of his colleagues go on holiday. He, instead, travels extensively during the year to deliver lectures in different parts of the world.
“Nothing is going to change this year,” they uttered in the halls of the tribunal.
The Kirchnerite administration was seen keeping a sturdy eye on the ages of justices in its proposed Judicial Reform package, with the president having regularly made reference to Justice Carlos Fayt, who on Saturday turned 96.
The battle over their ages is also a legal one. There are some who consider that the 1994 Constitutional reform means the age limits should not apply to justices appointed earlier — as is the case of Fayt and Justice Santiago Petracchi (78) — while there are some who want to see them off the bench. But at the Supreme Court, it would appear that justices are set on avoiding a definitive position on the issue.