President of the Budapest Metropolitan Court Sándor Fazekas ranks as one of the most influential judges in Hungary. He has served in the country’s judiciary since the regime change and has managed to remain in prominent posts throughout his career.
In 2011/2012, when Fidesz created the National Office of the Judiciary (and selected Tünde Handó, Fidesz MEP József Szájer’s wife, to lead the powerful agency) for the purposes of overhauling the judiciary, Handó, after a very tumultuous transition in the judiciary, appointed Fazekas to run the Budapest Metropolitan Court.
During the overhaul, Fazekas, who had earlier served as deputy chairman of the Hungarian Justice Council, was cautiously supportive of some of the changes to the judiciary. However, according to our sources in the judiciary, Fazekas’s cautious support of the overhaul changed in 2014.
As president of the Budapest Metropolitan Court, Fazekas is technically the boss of all judges in the region. As such, he acts as a sort of gatekeeper between the all-powerful National Office of the Judiciary (OBH) and the judges serving under him.
As Tünde Handó imposed her domineering demands upon the judiciary, Fazekas found himself in a precarious position, walking a tightrope between the demands of Handó’s OBH and managing to the professional needs (and increasingly difficult working conditions) of the judges working under him.
Sources tell the Beacon that given the scope of the changes to the judiciary introduced under Handó, Fazekas managed to remain a relatively independent and autonomous leader.
“Fazekas never really abused his position,” one source in the judiciary tells the Beacon. “In his own way, he stood up against the [unreasonable changes] Handó tried to impose. He can be described as a moderate reformer. He was unwilling to carry out everything Handó ordered. By 2014, he was very much against the pestering of judges — for instance, the overbearing workload, constant report-writing, and the shortened deadlines. In his own delicate and tactical way, he stood up to the OBH by lessening the severity of the whipping that judges received from the OBH. But he never did it openly. Even this is a positive trait in a system like this.”
But in early January 2018, Fazekas’s six-year mandate as president of the Budapest Metropolitan Court will end, and a call for applications to fill the post was recently announced.
Technically, the OBH should have announced its call for applications back in October, but the announcement was made a month later. In an interview published Monday by Magyar Nemzet, Fazekas announced that he has reapplied to his old post.
When asked whether the OBH’s delayed call for applications was the result of his criticisms of the all-powerful judicial agency, Fazekas insisted his recent criticisms of the agency were not negative in character, but rather “dry, professional observations.”
The tone of the interview with Magyar Nemzet offers insight into just how tactful Fazekas is when asked to reflect on the Hungarian judiciary’s concerns with the OBH.
When asked whether the OBH operates “despotically”, Fazekas responded: “I do not think it is proper to use that word. Contrary to the [OBH’s predecessor] National Justice Council (OIT), in which a council was responsible for running the judiciary, the OBH operates in a presidential structure, which ought to operate on a system of checks and balances. It is the job of the National Judicial Council (OBT) to supervise the activities of the president of the OBH.”
Asked whether the OBT has enough power to act as a counterbalance to the OBH, Fazekas responded: “I believe that the control functions of the OBT need to be strengthened. As I heard at the last regional congress of judges, the judges present at the congress also want just that. The current system was created in 2012 and replaced a system which spread responsibility onto a council, which lead to erosion. The OBH puts all the responsibility on one person….If a group of people are responsible for administration, it is not clear who is accountable for the decisions that are made.”
Fazekas also told Magyar Nemzet he would like to continue the process of streamlining the court’s services, help the wider public understand Hungary’s rather complex court rulings, and hire more staff to assist with the administrative workload of judges.
Rumors have been circulating among the judiciary that Fazekas rubbed Handó the wrong way by openly criticizing, in his own way, anomalies with the Handó-led OBH. According to these rumors, Handó may deny Fazekas another shot at the helm of the Budapest Metropolitan Court.
Two separate sources with insight into the judiciary tell the Beacon that Handó may invalidate the application procedure and exercise her right as OBH chief to appoint an acting president of the Budapest Metropolitan Court instead. According to these sources, Handó may try to fill the position with Szeged Metropolitan Court president Babett Tárkány Szűcs, who some regard as a Handó loyalist. Handó has been criticized in the past for employing this tactic.
An interesting tidbit of information about Tárkány Szűcs is that she is the partner of Tamás Gerber, a member of the 15-person OBT — a fact not lost on those who recently argued that his membership in the OBT is unlawful because he is in a relationship with Tárkány Szűcs, who serves as a regional court president.
The OBT is the 15-person council responsible for supervising the work of the OBH, and is comprised of the president of the Curia, one appellate court judge, five regional court judges, seven local judges, and one labor court judge.