Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Controlling the Supreme Court

The Honduran Supreme Court last week rolled over and offered its belly to Congress, voting 10-3 to open a disciplinary investigation into justice Marco Zuniga.

Zuniga, you will recall, wrote a scathing letter which he made public to chief justice Jorge Rivera Aviles in which he accused Rivera Aviles of being an alcoholic.

The Supreme Court vote came shortly after Congress threatened to dismiss Zuniga if he maintained his confrontational attitude with Rivera Aviles.  The threat came from Congressman Oswaldo Ramos Soto, chief author of many of the laws the previous Constitutional Branch of the Supreme Court found unconstitutional.  Ramos Soto says that Congress gave Rivera Aviles special powers to have full authority over personnel within the court, to re-assign justices to other positions within the Supreme Court, and to appoint the new council that will in the future, review and appoint judges. 

Ramos Soto said:
It's too bad that in the highest court of justice you have this type of problems.  I recommend to the magistrates involved that they moderate their tempers, calm down, because if it comes to Congress, Congress is ready to make the call, including firing them for insubordination in the Court.

The Supreme Court took the action of opening an disciplinary investigation into justice Marco Zuniga after voting 10-3 to confirm that Chief Justice Rivera Aviles was authorized by Congress to move judges around between the branches of the court, an unprecedented action.  Neither Rivera Aviles nor Marco Zuniga participated in the voting.

Congressional threats are not limited to the Supreme Court.  Now that Congress has given itself the power to remove anyone in government, it is considering removing the Public Prosecutor, Luis Rubí, who has a lousy investigation and conviction record. 

During the discussion of a revision to the law code to address hate crimes against women, Juan Orlando Hernandez said:
In advance, I tell you, I would not take it badly that as we are evaluating the performance of the Supreme Court and the Police, that this be done with the public prosecutors.
Marvin Ponce has said Rubí will be the first political justice case tried under the new law. 

This statement comes just after the Comisión de Reforma de la Seguridad Pública (CSRP) issued a report requesting the anti-corruption prosecutor be removed for corruption and incompetence, and a second report supposedly financed by the US Embassy was produced, recommending a complete reorganization of the public prosecutor's office. 

Marvin Ponce, vice president of Congress, confirmed he's heard of these reports, but the actions that might be taken are just rumors.

As Rafael Padilla of the Lawyers Against Corruption said:
The tragedy of Honduras is that justice is political, not legal, a product of the autocratic government that prevails.

As if to underscore Padilla's point, the Supreme Court ruled 9-4 with two abstentions to uphold the police cleanup law, the very same law that the four justices illegally fired by Congress said was unconstitutional because it failed to provide for the due process rights of the accused. So Congressional moves to remove justices who dared to disagree with them worked: from here on, expect Congress to be able to act with impunity.

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