Venezuelan judge seeks refugee status in Canada

The swirling political and financial chaos in Venezuela has been closely coupled with the ongoing desecration of judicial independence by President Nicolas Maduro’s regime.

Now the evidence of that desecration is starting to gush out.  Toronto’s Globe and Mail has published a story on Venezuelan judge Ralenis Tovar, who fled to Canada with her family in July and is now claiming refugee status there. Judge Tovar alleges that as a judge in Caracas, she was forced to sign arrest warrants for Maduro’s political enemies.  She further claims that the Maduro government tapped her phones and even attempted to kidnap her daughter from school.

From the Globe and Mail interview:

On her way home from work on Feb. 12, 2014, Ms. Tovar received a series of phone calls from an unknown number. Assuming it was an inmate, she didn’t answer. Then the president of Venezuela’s Supreme Court phoned and told her to pick up the calls. She did and was told to head back to the office.

Ms. Tovar said the court was surrounded by the National Guard and military intelligence officers when she arrived. She was greeted by four public prosecutors, who guarded her office’s door as she sat down.

She was given a folder with three arrest warrants inside. She said she didn’t recognize the first two names, but was shocked when she read the name on the third warrant: Leopoldo Lopez.

“I felt petrified because internally I knew what was the purpose of that warrant, which was to silence a political leader who was an obstacle for President Maduro,” Ms. Tovar said.

Given that it was 2 a.m., Ms. Tovar asked the prosecutors if she could review the warrant the next day. She said they laughed sarcastically and told her that if she didn’t sign it, she would end up like Maria Lourdes Afiuni, a Venezuelan judge who was allegedly raped in prison in 2010.

Terrified, Ms. Rovar signed Mr. Lopez’s arrest warrant.

Judicial independence and political freedom go hand in hand.  When one erodes, the other cannot be far behind.

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Kenya’s Supreme Court schedules, then fails to attend, emergency hearing to postpone presidential election

Kenya’s court-ordered repeat presidential election is scheduled for today, and the situation is a mess. Opposition leader Raila Odinga has asked his supporters to boycott the event, and there appears to be widespread confusion about how the process is supposed to work.  The country’s electoral chief himself has stated that he has no faith that the country can deliver a free and fair election.

Within this maelstrom, there was a last-minute effort this week to ask the Kenyan Supreme Court to postpone the election. A hearing was apparently scheduled for Wednesday morning. But only two of the seven justices showed up for the hearing, making it impossible for the court to hear and render a decision. Among the missing justices was Philomena Mwilu, whose driver/bodyguard was shot and killed Tuesday night.

Early reports from today’s election have already centered on violence and clashes between police and protesters.

Ohio to consider shielding judges’ personal information from the public

In the wake of the shooting of state judge Joseph Bruzzese on the steps of the Steubenville courthouse in August, the Ohio legislature has introduced a bipartisan bill to shield judges’ personal information from the public. The bill is still in its very early stages.

It is not hard to see why a bill like this might be necessary, but that realization is tinged with sadness. Judges are most effective when they are full members of the community, enjoying the same pleasures (and suffering the same indignities) as ordinary citizens. Grocery shopping, attending community events, waiting in line at the DMV, and similar activities foster an appreciation for everyday life that a judge needs to be an effective mediator, problem-solver, and voice for the community. When our judges are too cut off from the public, or exist in elite bubbles, they cannot have that effectiveness.

The benefits here of keeping a judge’s personal information from the public may well outweigh the costs. But we should be careful not to create a slippery slope in which the public and its judges lose critical opportunities for normal, everyday interaction.

Catalonian judiciary seeks extra protection ahead of independence push

These are tumultuous political times in Catalonia, which voted last week to declare independence from Spain. (The Spanish government argues that the vote, and any subsequent action, are illegal.)  The independence declaration, which may come Tuesday, has spurred the regional judiciary in Barcelona to request extra police presence. Currently the court building is protected by police loyal to the Catalan government; the President of the High Judiciary of Catalonia is requesting further presence by the National Police force.

 

Mississippi state judge receives death threats on social media

Mississippi state judge Carlos Moore has been the subject of several threatening social media posts, including one stating, “You’re a piece of **** I guess you need a bullet in the head.”

Police believe that the posts are related to Judge Moore’s decision to remove the Mississippi state flag from his courtroom.  The state flag contains a miniaturized version of the Confederate flag in one corner.

The local police have issued arrest warrants for two men for cyberstalking threats.

More reaction to the Ohio courthouse shooting

More reaction today to the shooting of Judge Joseph Bruzzese on the steps of a Steubenville, Ohio courthouse on Monday morning:

Fox News: Under Siege, More Judges Choose to Arm Themselves for Protection.  This article contains some useful discussion from the outstanding researcher Bill Raftery of the National Center for State Courts.

WKBN: ‘We should carry guns,’ local judge says following Steubenville shooting.

WTOV: Judge was presiding over shooter’s civil litigation against housing authority.

And semi-relatedly, a 36-year-old Tennessee man has been charged with sending a letter to a local judge, threatening to kill him.

Ohio judge shot on courthouse steps; returns fire; assailant killed

Yesterday morning, Judge Joseph Bruzzese of the Jefferson County (Ohio) Court of Common Pleas was shot in the chest at near point-blank range as he prepared to enter the courthouse in Steubenville, Ohio. Judge Bruzzese was rushed by helicopter to a Pittsburgh hospital, and it appears that he will survive. Remarkably, the judge was armed and returned fire. A local probation officer was also at the scene and also fired at the perpetrator, who was killed. Authorities surmise that had the probation officer not been present, the suspect would have continued firing until Judge Bruzzese was dead.

The suspect was identified as Nathaniel Richmond, whose son was convicted in the same court for raping a 16-year-old girl in 2012. But the motivation for the shooting is unclear.  Judge Bruzzese apparently had nothing at all to do with the younger Richmond’s case, although he is overseeing a separate case in which the elder Richmond is the plaintiff.

A sad and strange story, which could have been much worse if not for some quick thinking by the probation officer.  Wishing Judge Bruzzese a speedy and full recovery.