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Czech judge sanctioned for articles about migrants in bad taste

12.6.2016 12:04
--ilustrační foto--
--ilustrační foto--

A disciplinary panel of the Supreme Administrative Court (Nejvyšší správní soud - NSS) has officially cautioned a judge in Liberec, Czech Republic, Miloš Zbránek, for publishing two articles online. According to the panel, both of the pieces depicted migrants and the staff of nonprofit organizations in a grossly defamatory and non-objective way that crosses the line of decency and good taste.

The action brought against the judge mentioned one other text he had authored, but the panel found that piece did not necessitate sanctions. The written caution in the judge's record is the least severe form of sanction possible in a disciplinary proceeding.

Zbránek considers the panel's assessment of his writing to be subjective and previously stated in his defense that satire is not supposed to be "gracious or merciful". He did not attend the hearing on 6 June when the decision was announced.

Judge Miloš Zbránek:  Excerpt from his earlier antigypsyist online writings

"Among the first people interested was a certain Horváthová. I won't hide anything from you, she was a gypsy woman and in my life I have already seen a few apartments occupied by gypsies. I made a stupid excuse that the apartment was already leased or something and kept showing it to other prospects. Unfortunately, it turned about that one of them was the agent Anna Ochranářka [literally, 'Defendrix'] who runs that office in Brno [i.e., the Public Defender of Rights, or ombudsperson] and that gypsy woman had been her paid informer. Anna Ochranářka filed a public interest lawsuit against me. She explained that I do not have the right to accommodate the tenant I want in my own apartment and that if I am asked to lease to a gypsy tenant it is my obligation to do so, otherwise I am discriminating against them and violating their human rights. I paid the informer, Horváthová, compensation of CZK 100 00 and concluded a lease with her. The family had frequent visitors. Besides the mail carrier who brought them their standard welfare payment, they were always visited on Monday by IQ Roma servis, who contributed to their education, on Tuesday by Romodrom, who contributed to their social rehabilitation, on Wednesday by the Alliance of Roma with a contribution to their culture, on Thursday by the Athletic Federation of Roma who contributed to their sports, and on Friday the Agency for Inclusion, which offered them jobs but without much luck. The Horváth family remains unemployed, but I love that Agency. They employ Ukrainian cleaning women to clean the Horváths' apartment and they also sweep up the hallways on those occasions. The Horváths themselves don't clean anything, because most of them are on disability - their backs hurt. On Saturday Mr Desider Lakatoš, loan shark, visits them and cashes in all of those contributions to pay off the interest on their loans."

A matter of taste

If the two articles in question had been written by somebody who was not a judge, then the panel said they could never have become grounds for an intervention by a public power such as the court. While the opinions expressed there are extreme, still they do not espouse a hateful ideology and they do not call on anybody to do anything illegal.

Zbránek, of course, is a judge, which means he should be more restrained and make sure he does not subvert the dignity of his judicial office and thereby place the public's trust in the independence of the judiciary at risk. The profession of judge involves many restrictions, but judges in the Czech Republic are still allowed to dedicate themselves to artistic, literary and publicist endeavors.

The panel upheld the legal action against Zbránek with respect to his articles entitled "Report on Wandering into Germany" and "Letter to a Disoriented Asylum-Seeker", but not with respect to his article entitled "Report of the European Commissioner on the State of Human Rights in Muslim Lhota". The panel said the latter piece had been obvious satire, avoided vulgarities, and was based on actual events.

The panel emphasized that it is defensible for a judge to write satire. The two pieces on the topic of refugees, however, were considered by the panel to come too close to crossing the line of decency and good taste.

"In some instances the pieces even cross that line," presiding Judge Radovan Havelec said. The decision of the panel mentions the pieces' generalizing depictions of refugees and their pointless use of vulgarisms as the straw that broke the camel's back.

Zbránek works at the Liberec branch of the Regional Court, where he handles the business law agenda and where his supervisors have no objections about his actual job performance. The president of that court, Luboš Dörfl, has, however, previously called upon him to be more moderate in his writing.

When Zbránek's publishing activity did not improve, his superior filed a disciplinary action against him. The panel reviewed it on 26 May.

Zbránek would not actually even confirm at that time whether he was the author of the articles in question. The panel, however, considered it beyond dispute that he had in fact authored them.

Dörfl has welcomed the disciplinary panel's decision. "I appreciate that in the panel's justification there was a detailed discussion of how to assess a judge's publication activity and what lines a judge should not cross," Dörfl said.

The head of the Liberec Regional Court said he does not believe the limits of judicial ethics are firmly established in the Czech Republic yet and said they can be gradually clarified through similar decisions. In addition to insulting refugees and Romani people, Zbránek's texts to date have also insulted gay people.

He has also not hesitated to insult ombudsperson Anna Šabatová (see the excerpt above). His pieces have been criticized by Czech Justice Minister Robert Pelikán (ANO), who said that some seemed homophobic and Islamophobic to him, which could call into question the judge's impartiality during disputes in which members of those minorities are involved.

Zbránek's case is an isolated one. Disciplinary actions usually concern delays of proceedings and similar offenses.

There is a certain similarity between his case and that of Prague Judge Kamil Kydalka. According to a verdict handed down against Kydalka last year by another disciplinary panel, the judge erred when he expressed his opinion about a local political struggle ongoing in the town of Mnichovice u Prahy, where he owns a summer home.

In that case, however, the panel refrained from imposing sanctions. Bringing the disciplinary action against the judge was in and of itself considered punishment enough.

ČTK, jal, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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