By: Petra Janša, C. R.
Given the current state of the judiciary, it is worth recalling the article we published in 2018, but it is still very relevant, as the old structures of the deep state continue to work on their own. The example of Masleša is just the tip of the iceberg.
There is a belief among judges that energy and time should be invested in good relations with senior judges and not in work. Such a belief or action is confirmed by the progressions described below, which are only one of the most characteristic.
In the judiciary, advancement is conditioned by relationships, acquaintances, and friendships. The fact is that those judges who are capable and the best are not promoted. This statement comes from numerous articles in the media and from an interview with Dr Urška Kežmah, former president of the Slovenian Judges’ Association, who left the judiciary for this reason as well. Kežmah replaced the black judge’s robe with a purple lawyer one, and her decision is “a reflection of the general situation in the state administration, not only in the judiciary”, she told Večer in April this year.
She replaced the black robe with purple
Večer wrote that Kežmah was the Maribor District Judge, the head of the litigation department at the Maribor District Court and the vice-president of this court. She received her PhD in 2016 and, in addition to her judicial work, she was also a lecturer at the Maribor Faculty of Law. She put on a judge’s robe over a decade ago. And why did the judge, who was even entrusted with the management of their association by her colleagues, decide to leave the judiciary? “My decision reflects the general situation in the state administration, not only in the judiciary. Unfortunately, many of the best and most capable staff do not have the opportunity to be promoted, the salary system is still frozen for judges, and it does not look like it will be any different soon,” she explained. Regarding the work in the Judges’ Association, she said at the time: “I accepted the work in the Judges’ Association as a challenge and started it with full responsibility. We have succeeded with some positive changes, but there are still many challenges. My work will now be continued by others. I am sure it is just as driven. The Slovenian Judges’ Association has a lot of potential and capable judges, so I am not worried about its future.”
Who proposes promotion?
Pursuant to the Judicial Service Act, the personnel council is responsible for assessing judge’s work. The personnel council of the High Court is responsible for making assessments of district judges, and the personnel council of the Supreme Court is responsible for making assessments of senior judges. If the personnel council of the higher court “finds” that the judge meets the conditions for faster promotion, the judicial council does not descend into the assessment and confirms such promotion. Of course, evaluations of an individual judge’s work are often conditioned by friendly ties and connections with senior judges. According to our information, there is even a belief among judges that energy and time should be invested in good relations with senior judges and not in work. Such beliefs and actions are confirmed by the progressions described below, which are one of the most characteristic.
The criterion is friendship with superiors
The fact is that social connections that a judge of the first instance has with the colleagues of the superior higher court are important for making an assessment, because he makes assessments. In doing so it is negligible how much, what, and how well a judge works. What matters is whether he has friends in the higher court and whether he is liked by his colleagues in the higher court, who assess the judicial service for him. The Judicial Service Act specifies the criteria according to which a judge’s work is evaluated, but these are not important because the criteria of friendship, liking, return of services and other subjective criteria that have nothing to do with evaluation requirements are important. Judges’ assessments do not consider legal criteria.
That such allegations are true is confirmed by several concrete cases of judges in various courts of first instance. Let’s look at some of the examples we have been pointed out.
Senior Judge at the Celje District Court Ingrid Lešnik obtained the title of Senior Judge based on the assessment of the Personnel Council of the Celje Higher Court for faster promotion, although in the case of illegal production and trafficking of drugs in a criminal association of accused N. Lužić, Ž. Kalinić, B. Stokuća, P. Šolaja and others she did not call a pre-trial hearing within one year from the filing of the indictment or within 13 to 16 months from the order of detention. Therefore, on April 9th, 2018, all defendants were released from custody. And Judge Lešnik received an assessment for faster promotion.
Example Turk Lukan
Senior judge at the Ljubljana High Court Katarina Turk Lukan was appointed to the position after she made a serious professional error as a district judge in the trial of Luka Vlaović for attempted murder for brutally assaulting a partner of his never to be love. In October 2013, he stabbed Rok Š. on Groharjeva cesta in Ljubljana with a 14-centimeter knife from behind, and he had been preparing for the attack for a whole month. Luka Vlaović pleaded guilty to attempted murder and was sentenced to 4 years in prison. If convicted of attempted murder, which he did, he would receive a significantly higher sentence and at least 15 years in prison. Although all the circumstances confirmed that it was an attempted murder and not a murder, the prosecution accused him of attempted murder, and Judge Turk Lukan accepted the confession, thus making a serious professional error, as she should have refused the confession. This was also established by the Supreme Court in the request for protection of legality, where it found that Turk Lukan had made a professional error, which was also confirmed by the higher court. However, the important fact that Luka Vlaović is the son of doctor Miodrag Vlaović, who got involved in the “golden rod” corruption scandal in 2013, cannot be ignored, and at that time he was charged with accepting bribes. This is probably just a coincidence.
Another example Turk Lukan
In the first instance, Judge Turk Lukan was assigned a case file against former MP Andrej Magajno for the alleged criminal offense of possession of pornographic material with minors. It was only in February 2015 that she held a pre-trial hearing, but then did not resume the trial. The trial was started by a second judge in September 2017 and ended in 2018 with an acquittal, which is final today. It was an unjustified persecution that lasted six years.
A new example Turk Lukan
Judge Turk Lukan, this time as a senior judge, also reported in the senate in the criminal case against Janez Ašić for a criminal offense under Art. 325 KZ-1. It was a traffic accident that happened in 2015 at the AMZS on Dunajska cesta in Ljubljana, where motorcyclist Matej Š. lost his life. In the first instance, the court sentenced Ašić to a suspended sentence, which Turk Lukan turned into a prison sentence on the prosecution’s appeal. Although the deceased victim was her classmate in high school and although she attended his funeral, she reported to the Court of Appeal and ruled on the matter. The fact is that she should have withdrawn from the trial in this case due to impartiality and informed the other two members of the Chamber of these circumstances, but she did not do so. Moreover, she turned a suspended sentence into a prison sentence. The Supreme Court therefore overturned the second-instance verdict because the principle of impartiality had been violated, as Turk Lukan should have been excluded from the trial. However, the fact that Ašić has already served his entire prison sentence after the second-instance verdict cannot be ignored.
Example Verdel Kokol
Senior Judge at the District Court in Maribor Vanja Verdel Kokol obtained the title of Senior Judge based on an assessment for faster promotion prepared by the Personnel Council of the High Court in Maribor. She received such an assessment of her work, even though she sentenced one of the country’s biggest tax debtors, Urban Marovt, to a weekend in prison in violation of legal conditions. The judge was ordered to undergo official supervision, which was proposed by the then Minister of Justice. Namely, Urban Marovt was sentenced to weekend imprisonment in violation of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Slovenia. Based on a guilty plea, Marovt should be imprisoned for 4 years and 11 months, and this sentence does not allow for the alternative of serving a prison sentence. The Maribor Prison Penitentiary pointed out the mistake, but the judge stated that she would not change her position on the alternative sentence. Therefore, Marovt enjoyed the benefits for a year, even though the legal conditions for this were not met. It was only when the case became public that the Maribor court lifted the illegal sentence. However, despite the violations found, the judge progressed faster while having her work supervised.
Example Kršač Ulaga
Senior Judge Barbara Krpač Ulaga, who was promoted to the position of Senior Judge at the High Court in Ljubljana after proving her high performance by resolving consensual divorces, where there are no appeals at all because there is an agreement between the parties. Other judges in the litigation department, on the other hand, are facing the most difficult damages, division of property, etc. Of course, the fact that Barbara Krpač Ulaga is the niece of Štefka Kučan, the daughter of her late brother, cannot be ignored. This is the reason she was elected to the position of senior judge, and her performance was inflated.
District Judge Tina Benčič from the Piran District Court also received a relatively lenient sentence from the Judicial Council for owning a house built without a building permit on foreign land: transfer to another district court in the Koper District Court for one year. We must not ignore the fact that she comes from the district court, which falls within the framework of the High Court in Koper. Jana Petrič, a member of the Judicial Council, also comes from this court, and she is undoubtedly responsible for such a “punishment”. The fact that Branko Masleša also came from the High Court in Koper to the Supreme Court of the Republic of Slovenia cannot be ignored. Given the fact that Judge Tina Benčič’s mother’s maiden name was Kučan and that her grandmother and grandfather from her mother’s side are from Prekmurje, the answer to why such a minimum sentence, is in the palm of your hand.
Senior Judge at the District Court in Ljubljana Lea Habjanić obtained the title of Senior Judge based on the assessment of the Judicial Service prepared by the Personnel Council of the High Court in Ljubljana in June 2016. At that time, the Constitutional Court the acts of enslavement, which were dealt with by this very judge, lifted the detention. It was at this time, however, that the Constitutional Court lifted the detention in the criminal case against Boštjan Majer for the criminal offense of enslavement, which was being considered by this very judge. The Constitutional Court found that the accused had been in detention for a disproportionate length of time, during which time the court did not call a single main hearing. Within ten months of the filing of the indictment, the judge did not call a main hearing, so the Constitutional Court lifted the detention and released the accused. Of course, the judge received an award and promotion for this, which is the result of exclusively friendly ties with senior judges, and not the result of her work and professional decisions. In an organised state, she should be disciplined for not working.
Senior Judge at the District Court in Ljubljana Jaša Jasminka Trklja obtained the title of Senior Judge based on the assessment of the Judicial Service made by the Personnel Council of the High Court in Ljubljana, in which a member is also her extramarital partner, Senior Judge Anton Panjan, President of this court. Even if the president of this court withdrew from the vote, it would be illusory to expect the assessment of the Personnel Council to be different, as it is an assessment of the work of the partner of one of its members. They do not hide the means and the way to achieve privileges in the High Court at all.
District Judge at the Kranj District Court Milena Turuk undoubtedly belongs to the “circle of our people”, although lawyers also acknowledge her professionalism. The fact is that this judge lectures in preparation for the state bar exam as part of the activities led by Marjana Logar, a retired senior judge at the High Court in Ljubljana, where the president is Anton Panjan, who also lectures within the same organisation. Before Logar’s retirement, Logar and Panjan were colleagues in the same court. As part of the preparations for the state law exam (PDI seminar), Logar covers the criminal part, while Anton Panjan covers the civil and economic part.
Occasionally, within the framework of the same organiser of lectures, the criminal part is also covered by the district judge Milena Turuk, who comes from Kranj like Logar. In addition, the District Court in Kranj falls under the High Court in Ljubljana, which, as already mentioned, is headed by Anton Panjan. What is most important for the promotion is the fact that Anton Panjan strongly supports Judge Turuk in the call for judges in the specialised department for the trial in complex cases of organised crime. Although there are many judges in the district courts within the High Court in Ljubljana who have richer experience in demanding and lengthy trials, more length of service and a greater number of extremely difficult criminal proceedings, Anton Panjan supports this judge, who lectures on preparations for legal state examination within the same organisation as him. The fact is that judges who are members of a specialised department have much higher salaries than other colleagues, and “membership” in a specialised group of judges for organised crime trials means a certain reward.
The described examples of judicial promotions are just some of the examples of promotions according to criteria that are anything but legal. It is therefore perfectly clear that decisions in the judiciary are unprofessional and questionable. This claim is also confirmed by the number of annulled judgments in the Constitutional Court and in the European Court of Human Rights.