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October 24, 2021



Czech court overturns fine against attorney who objected to expert by alleging he was Jewish

7.12.2016 14:08
--ilustrační foto--
--ilustrační foto--

The attorney Petr Kočí has successfully appealed a fine against him for alleging court expert Michal Mazel was of Jewish origin. The attorney was defending a member of an ultra-right party and claimed Mazel's alleged origin would bias him against her.

Czech daily Lidové noviny reported today on last week's decision by the Municipal Court in Prague. The Czech Bar Association fined the attorney CZK 100 000 [EUR 3 700] three years ago.

While Kočí has already paid the fine, the current verdict, according to the daily, opens up the option of his getting the money back. The reasoning of last week's verdict has not yet been published.

Online news server reports that Kočí said last week that the court had overturned the decision of the disciplinary appeals commission and returned the matter to it for further processing. Kočí had been defending a member of the extremist Workers' Social Justice Party (DSSS), Lucie Šlégrová, in a criminal proceedings after she was charged with promoting antisemitism and Nazism for remarks she made at an assembly in the Czech town of Litvínov, charges of which she was eventually acquitted.

During the hearing before the District Court in Most, Kočí raised an objection against Mazel, justifying it by alleging, among other things, that he was of Jewish origin. The court rejected the objection as irrelevant, but news of it sparked significant agitation.

The disciplinary senate of the Bar Association banned Kočí from practicing for one year in October 2012, which he appealed. One year later, the Bar Association's disciplinary appeals chamber reduced the sanctions against him to a fine of CZK 100 000 [EUR 3 700].

Kočí appealed that decision as well. In his appeal, he emphasized that the chamber, in its argument for a lesser sanction, ultimately agreed with him on the basic question, which was that the objection he raised regarding the expert's alleged ethnic origin should have been admissible, given the subject of the research he had been asked to comment on.

The disciplinary appeals senate then fined the attorney not for the content of his objection, but for raising it using an "inappropriate formulation" (see below). Last week his appeal of that fine succeeeded in court.

Mazel, one of the few expert witnesses on extremism in the Czech Republic, decided to resign in 2012 after this objection was raised against him and because of constantly increasing pressure placed on him by the members of the ultra-right whom he had been studying. Three years of diatribes against him took their toll.

"I have been considering stepping down for some time, but these most recent matters have affected me such that I don't think I could handle my job in the future. There is enormous psychological pressure involved. One must remain disinterested," Mazel told the Czech daily Právo at the time. 

"This has been an interesting experience for me, I have learned a great deal about the ultra-right scene. Sometimes I had the feeling that from time to time too much emphasis is placed on expert witnesses. The courts and police should be able to digest some matters on their own. Other cases being tried seemed too trivial to me. The defendants in whose cases I was asked for my expertise often defended themselves through a kind of Czech 'Švejkism' [a reference to the literary character of the Good Soldier Švejk], claiming they should be able to espouse National Socialism because [former Czech Social Democratic Party chair] Jiří Paroubek espouses something similar. Fortunately the courts have not accepted those excuses," Mazel said.

Mazel's allegedly Jewish origin was deduced by Šlégrová's defense team solely from his surname. "That surname often also turns up in variations similar to Maazel and comes from the Hebrew 'Moshe', which means Moses. Another similar variation is, for example, Maisel," her attorney argued.

"As a person of Jewish origin, the expert witness is doubtless very sensitive to the question of the Shoah (the Holocaust) and German National Socialism and, like many of his fellow tribal members, has a tendency to overreact. Such oversensitivity can become an inappropriate sensitivity to anything related to this question. That is why it is understandable that the expert sees an anti-Semitic reference to the 'chosen nation', i.e., the Jews, in a speech where the defendant is merely talking about the current establishment, about the government in the broader sense," the objection alleged.

"I am no longer amused," Mazel said, "to read on the Internet what sort of weapon I should be smashed in the head with, or that I am a stingy Jew who should get a black mamba for Hannukah. I am not of Jewish origin, but the Nazis have no compunction about writing that until the cows come home. It is hard to remain calm when the Nazis start writing where you live and other things on their websites. In time, the pressure would affect my work."

"The state should think through whether expert witness work in the area of extremism should continue as it is currently organized," Mazel said. Prior to retiring he worked, among other matters, on the 2009 case of the Vítkov arsonists, and his testimony helped dissolve the Workers' Party (Dělnická strana - DS) in 2010.

On the basis of Mazel's expertise, leading members of the DSSS, including party chair Tomáš Vandas, were given suspended prison sentences. Miroslav Mareš, another expert witness on right-wing extremism, also stopped performing such work in 2008 out of fear for his personal safety.

When he stepped down, Mareš also criticized the way the Czech judicial system uses expert witnesses on extremism. Mazel resigned with similar feelings.

"I personally believe, in the final analysis, that it would be best not to support the special branch on extremism any more. It leads to not only police officers, but sometimes even judges asking the expert which statements are the 'flawed' ones, which is a kind of alibi for their refusal to think for themselves. What would be correct would be for them to evaluate all of the indications of the crime themselves. They should only ask an expert witness about matters related to the fields of history or political science, or for the meanings of various symbols and their various purposes," Mazel said at that time.

ČTK, agw, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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