“These fears are totally legitimate” – Update to our judge interview series

March 8, 2018

"These fears are totally legitimate" - Update to our judge interview series

“With its response, [the OBH] proves that these fears are totally legitimate.” – Magyar Narancs.

We have some updates on our interview series with former and practicing judges.

Interview #1 — Former judge Gábor Székely

In our first interview, we spoke to former judge Gábor Székely.

Response from the court

A spokesperson for the Zalaegerszeg Regional Court responded to Székely’s claims in an email to our Hungarian-language sister online daily. The lengthy response was included at the bottom of the original interview. The court went down the line refuting Székely’s assertions point-by-point. Concerning the tone of the letter, it was quite hostile toward Székely, which is unsurprising considering the frankness with which he spoke of his former employer.

The court rejected any notion that judges are subject to ill-treatment and said that Székely should brush up on his history of the Hungarian judicial system.

The court called Székely’s behavior “maniacal,” accused him of being “disrespectful toward those whose cases he tried and their legal counsel,” “speaking arrogantly,” “not meeting minimum professional standards,” and “being incapable of recognizing his own errors.”

Moreover, the court demanded that the ethics committee of the chamber of lawyers initiate some kind of proceeding against Székely on grounds of his “maniacal [behavior], his statements concerning the unscrupulous papering-over of official documents, and his statement that clients who want him to paper-over things should find another lawyer.”

The former judge is preparing a rejoinder to these accusations, which we will publish upon receipt.

Interview #2 – Practicing judge Jakab Gipsz (Hungarian for John Doe)

In our second interview, we spoke to a current judge who wished to remain anonymous. At the judge’s request, we recorded the video in an unidentifiable location, altered his voice, and pixelated his body.

The court’s response

The National Office of the Judiciary (OBH), led by Tünde Handó, responded by publishing a copy-cat video under the title “[Failing to see the] Trees from the Forest – Truth about the Justice System.”

The OBH video appears to make light of what the anonymous judge said and the manner in which he said it.

In the copy-cat interview clearly modeled on the one we published, a “judge asking to remain anonymous” spoke at length about how awesome the court system is, how much additional money has been given to the courts, the various investments from which the courts have benefited, the supposedly fast rate at which cases are now being tried, and how Hungarian courts are top performers in the EU.

But buried in the success propaganda was an interesting sentence concerning the controversial appointment process for judges. According to the OBH, “the [appointment process] is very complex.”

Critics would say that calling the process “complex” is an understatement. A lawsuit filed by judge Csaba Vasvári against the OBH and its chief, Tünde Handó, claims Vasvári was denied the position for which he applied, despite being supported by the National Judicial Council (OBT).

Media response

Liberal Hungarian print weekly Magyar Narancs responded to the OBH’s unconventional response as follows:

  • “[The OBH] humiliates its own judge and exposes itself by trying to prove that the judiciary is not under political pressure.”
  • “With this video, [the OBH] exposes itself because it does not try to refute the statements made in the Budapest Beacon interview, instead it lists a completely different set of facts and showcases them as success, in a manner similar to Origo and Ripost.”
  • “Furthermore, by referring to their own anonymous judge whose name and face is not shown, they try to undermine the professional credibility of the critical judge [in the Budapest Beacon interview]. [The OBH] tries to make light of the fact that the critical judge is worried about his job and his family. But the fear for material security is not only present in the courts, it is also there in public administration, hospitals, and in schools.”
  • “With its response, [the OBH] proves that these fears are totally legitimate. People have been fired by the state for far less. We need only remember the Hódmezővásárhely [mayoral by-election], where Péter Márky-Zay lost his job when he announced his candidacy, and those supporters who dared attend his forums were publicly [named and shamed].”

Still to come

We still have a few interviews to publish, including an interview with prominent Hungarian legal sociologists as to what these interviews (and the courts’ responses) tell us about what is happening in Hungary’s judiciary.