November 22, 2014
Campagnoli trial at risk
Juror’s leave of absence may result in the trial collapse amid continued media pressure
Doubts persist about the immediate future of the trial into suspended prosecutor José María Campagnoli’s alleged malfeasance and claims he meddled with a colleague’s investigation, as the jury presiding over the case starts the week at the eye of an intense media storm, and with one juror less than what it started with.
Juror María Cristina Martínez Córdoba was on Tuesday granted sick leave for stress and high blood pressure, according to medical reports. A low-profile prosecutor, she is believed to be feeling the pressure of the intense media interest in the case and the expectations that her vote could decide the fate of a man who has been labelled an out-of-control prosecutor by some and as an example of the need to protect judicial independence by others.
The trial was expected to start up again today, but Martínez Córdoba extended her sick leave, leaving the jury in a precarious situation that could lead to the trial collapsing. Judicial observers and media have indicated that she could be replaced with Leonardo Miño. The scenario is not specifically addressed by the law, though many have said the trial may have to start again from square one.
“In principle, Miño could not take part in the ruling as he was not present in any of the hearings,” Campagnoli lawyer Ignacio Irigaray told the Herald last week. “We want a final ruling, not one that will be appealed because the proceeding had failings.”
This was in contrast to his colleague, former Radical party (UCR) lawmaker Ricardo Gil Lavedra, who told the Herald that Miño could in fact take Martínez Córdoba’s place.
The remaining members of the jury will meet today to decide their next step and in the event they chose to replace Martínez Córdoba with Miño will have to determine if the new juror is allowed to watch video recordings of all previous hearings in the trial, or if the intensely-watched trial starts over again.
At the eye of an intense media storm, the so-called Campagnoli trial has even seen journalists in the witness stand. Last week’s focus seemed to fall on Martínez Córdoba, who feauted heavily on last Sunday evening’s Periodismo para todos (Journalism for All) programme, whose host is star journalist — and witness — Jorge Lanata.
She was also the subject of intense debate on social media, where her office and home telephone numbers were published, along with threats of public shaming if she did not vote in favour of the prosecutor Campagnoli.
“When you’re out on the streets, we’ll remember you,” said one tweet, while another demanded the children’s court prosecutor “vote in favour of Campagnoli or be eaten up in hell.” Joining in on the Twitter debate was Ignacio Rodríguez Varela, the prosecutor’s secretary and the son of Buenos Aires province public prosecutor and former dictatorship Justice minister, Alberto Rodríguez Varela, who wrote on his account, in reference to the jurors, “Campagnoli will return and they’re not handling it well. The time to hold them accountable is near.”
Martínez Córdoba hasn’t been the only person involved in the case to be subject to aggression.
Prosecution lawyer Adolfo Villate on Thursday lodged a criminal complaint over alleged intimidation and death threats made during an anonymous phone call answered at his Rosario family home by his wife.
The call occurred between 7.30 and 7.45pm on Tuesday, the complaint indicated, with Villate’s wife María Eugenia Masuero claiming the voice of a middle-aged man asked her for the whereabouts of her husband. When she told him he was “travelling” the man allegedly responded: “Where is that son of a bitch who wants to judge a person like Campagnoli? Isn’t he afraid of being shot dead?”
In dialogue with the state-run news agency Télam, Villate suggested there may be a correlation between the threats and the media “pressure” on him and some of the jurors. He also noted the timing of the threats with the imminence of a decision over Campagnoli’s fate as being important.
“She is under pressure, as many of us are,” Villate told the Herald last week. “Several defamatory articles were published against those members of the impeachment tribunal who are allegedly going to vote for Campagnoli’s removal.”
Campagnoli has become the symbol of the political divide currently facing Argentina.
Aside from an illegal collection of 1,500 photos of residents of the Villa Mitre area of the neighbourhood where his office is located and accusations of “abuse of authority,” critics claim Campagnoli operated outside the limits of his role by meddling with the investigation of his colleague Guillermo Marijuán. They question why he decided, in that case, to consider businessman Federico Elaskar as an alleged victim of extorsion instead of following up on allegations against him of fraud, in a case involving the business deals of Lázaro Báez, a businessman with links to the presidential couple, former president the late Néstor Kirchner and President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.
Meanwhile, Campagnoli’s loyal supporters — who have led protests and often gather outside the courthouse to voice their support for the suspended prosecutor — say for precisely that reason, the case againt him is purely political and an attack on judicial independence in the face of alleged corruption within government ranks.
Herald with Télam