‘Oyarbide should have gone to the raid’
One of the lawyers in the Magistrates Council says the group has entered new era of cooperation
Daniel Ostropolsky is one of the two lawyers who are part of the Magistrates Council, the body in charge of selecting and punishing judges — a group that has been largely responsible for the rifts that began last year between the Kirchnerite administration and the judiciary.
Today the Magistrates Council will likely have to examine several complaints against Judge Norberto Oyarbide, a controversial judge with alleged ties to Kirchnerism.
Last week, Oyarbide was once again in the headlines after acknowledging he suspended a raid on a credit co-operative after receiving a call from Presidential Legal and Technical Secretary Carlos Zannini’s right hand man, Carlos Liuzzi, and justified his actions by saying the police officers conducting the raid had sought a bribe by using his name.
“For the Council, it would be good news to stay out of the news but that does not happen,” says Ostropolsky in conversations with the Herald earlier this week in his office located a few metres from Corrrientes Avenue.
Ostropolsky won a seat in the Council in 2010 so this will be his last year. He was presented as a Radical party candidate and Justice Minister Julio Alak filed a criminal complaint against him and other councilors for allegedly obstructing the decision over the Media Broadcasting Law.
But times change and now Ostropolsky, who heads the Council’s Regulatory Committee, believes that consensus can make the Council work better.
“Though there are many who criticize the Council, I believe it was a good idea that the 1994 constitutional reform gave it to us because it was aimed at limiting the appointment of judges for political reasons,” he argues, going on to complain about the 2006 reform sponsored by President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner to ban lawyers from the Council’s selection committee.
What is going to happen with Oyarbide?
I think that Oyarbide represents what the judiciary has to put up with. An experienced judge like Oyarbide must know he cannot simply order a raid and then suspend it after receiving a phone call.
What should he have done?
He should have gone to the site of the raid. He should have talked to the head of the Federal Police and should have removed the agents who were behaving in an irregular manner. What’s more, he ordered the raid on December 19. On March 10, Oyarbide told the appeals court that he received a phone call from Liuzzi and that’s why he decided to suspend the raid. He should have reported that situation — the involvement of an official — earlier. This is a very serious situation. Oyarbide does not have the necessary skills to be a nation’s judge.
So what is the Council going to do?
With the elements we have, we can summon him to give the explanations within the next 20 days. Meanwhile we can collect more evidence.
Kirchnerite lawmaker Carlos Moreno, who is also part of the Council, says he does not want an irregular procedure.
That’s his opinion. This procedure is not irregular, as we have followed it many times before.
Could you have summoned Oyarbide last week?
I think so. Moreno said he didn’t know about the complaints and I asked somebody to read them. I think they are being too strict with the letter of the rules without paying attention to how serious the situation really is. I think there has never been a case like this, of a judge explaining in a writ that he suspended a procedure due to a phone call from a government official.
Why were you critical of the law passed last year that would have reformed the Magistrates Council?
That law increased the number of members to benefit a certain sector, contradicting the Constitution. Accordingly, the number of scholars would have risen to six and they would have been elected by popular vote. The Magistrates Council has both technical and political members but with the reform they would have all been political. What’s more, councillors were expected to be elected in the presidential elections and were also forced to be included in ballot lists. Judges are not allowed to get involved in politics.
Shouldn’t the Council be reformed?
I think that when there is a renewal of the legislative authorities and thus a more obvious balance, not a partial political force, a new law to reform the Council will be approved that will contribute to a broader vision.
That’s what the opposition had vowed to do, right?
Yes but after the president won 54 percent of the vote in 2011, nothing like that could be done. After that result the government pursued its “going for everything” mantra that included last year’s reform. But it’s also necessary that the Council take a look at itself and to meet pending issues.
Such as the funds that Chief Justice Ricardo Lorenzetti demands?
The judicial management is divided into two parts. On the one hand, the Supreme Court and, on the other, the Council, including the federal judiciary and the national one. Ninety percent of the Council’s revenues are devoted to pay wages. But it’s the Court that decides wages, so the Council only administers the funding provided by the Executive. The Council seems to have many obligations but no rights.
Is the election of Ricardo Recondo (considered to be a member of the judicial corporation by Kirchnerites) and the inclusion of La Cámpora activists Julián Álvarez and Eduardo de Pedro a sign that something is changing in the Council?
Yes. When it was announced that they were coming, we knew that Álvarez was one of those who had pushed to reform the Council. But they came praising dialogue and consensus and when it was time to choose the authorities, we all voted for Judge Alejandro Sánchez Freytes and for Recondo, who was the paradigm of those whom the government accused.
Your relationship with the Kirchnerite administration was filled with conflict in the beginning. You were presented as a Radical councilor and were included in a criminal complaint for allegedly defending the interests of the Clarín media group...
But there were also rumours that the Kirchnerite administration wanted you to take over the Council’s presidency this year. Is that true?
I am not going to say no. There had been informal meetings but I said I couldn’t be the ruling party’s candidate. If I had been offered to be the consensus candidate, I would have said yes. I’m glad we elected a president unanimously because it marks a new era for the Council.