January 22, 2021

The Judicial Branch with an expired mandate faces the appointment of 13 high-level positions in the main courts

The General Council of the Judiciary (CGPJ), which should have been renewed 20 months ago, plans to award while in office and with the composition of the conservative majority inherited from the stage in which Mariano Rajoy’s PP ruled with an absolute majority, another 13 high-level positions in the main courts. With these appointments they would be a total of 56 positions of the judicial leadership appointed by this interim Council. Except for a last minute surprise, the appointments will be addressed in the plenary session that the institution will be held on September 30.

Most of the PP in a Judicial Power in office: 43 appointments in a year, 12 in the Supreme

Most of the PP in a Judicial Power in office: 43 appointments in a year, 12 in the Supreme

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Among the most delicate places that the CGPJ plans to renew are three in the Second Chamber of the Supreme Court, the one that ultimately examines most of the criminal cases that are tried in Spain and through which corruption cases pass. The magistrates of this Criminal Chamber are the ones who will have the last word on sentences in such relevant cases as the Gürtel or the ERE. They would also be in charge of deciding on the opening of a criminal case against Juan Carlos I in the event that the Office of the High Court Prosecutor so requests. Its current president, Manuel Marchena, renewed his position precisely with this interim Council. The appointments of judges of the High Court are for life unless resignation.

The retirement of three magistrates —Luciano Varela, Francisco Monterde and Jorge Barreiro— has left as many vacancies for which 15 candidates are competing – nine men and six women – who have already passed the first cut of the Permanent Commission that, depending on Qualification , is in charge of offering the plenary sessions for the appointment of judicial positions. At the end of last July, and given the existence of negotiations between the Government and the PP for the renewal of the CGPJ, the majority of the Plenary voted in favor of removing the voting of these appointments from the agenda, but President Carlos Lesmes warned of that in the event that the negotiation for the renewal failed, those votes would be retaken in the next plenary session. That meeting is scheduled for next September 30.

Lesmes, who was a senior position in the governments of José María Aznar, made it clear in his speech at the solemn ceremony for the Opening of the Judicial Year that appointments to the judicial leadership must continue to develop “normally.” “The opposite would be to breach the fundamental rule itself,” he said. CGPJ sources recall that the Appointment Regulations establishes that vacancies have to be published in the BOE “immediately after they occur” and that the Council has to resolve “within a maximum period of six months”. In addition, they explain that the existence of three vacancies in the Second Room means that 20% of its floor is unfilled, which may affect its operation if the situation lasts longer.

Preferred by conservatives

Among the candidates to enter that Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court there are several magistrates with a position in the conservative majority of the CGPJ such as Concepción Espejel, current president of the Criminal Chamber of the National Court and who was removed from the Gürtel case due to its proximity to PP. Or Ángel Luis Hurtado, currently in the Appeals Chamber of the National High Court, the only judge of the Gürtel court who refused to allow Mariano Rajoy to be called to testify as a witness and who cast a private opinion against the sentence that certified the existence from a box B in the PP asking for the party’s acquittal.

Espejel acceded to the special court in January 2007 and since 2017 has directed the Criminal Chamber, a key organ of the National Court, since it prosecutes organized crime and all cases of terrorism. The current conservative majority then elected her to this position over other candidates such as the progressive Manuela Fernández Prado, who is another of the candidates for a position in the Second Chamber of the Supreme Court.

José Ramón Navarro, current president of the National High Court, is also fighting for a position in the Supreme Court. He arrived at his current position in 2014 thanks to the majority support of the conservative sector. Last July, with the CGPJ in office, he unanimously renewed the position. It belongs to the moderate Francisco de Vitoria Association. His name has returned to the present day when it appears in the summary of Operation Kitchen an SMS conversation between him and the only politician charged in the case, former Interior number two Francisco Martínez.

Teresa Palacios, associated with the majority and conservative Professional Association of the Magistracy (APM) and speaker of the sentence of the black cards that sentenced Rodrigo Rato to four years and six months in prison, is another of the judges of the National Court who aspires to make the leap to the Supreme Court. Among the candidates from the special court there are also judges linked to the progressive sphere such as the aforementioned Manuela Fernández Prado, associated with Judges and Judges for Democracy, or Juan Ramon Sáez, who between 1996 and 2001 was a member of the CGPJ at the proposal of IU and who he demanded “respect for plurality” in his appearance before the Permanent Commission.

On the other hand, the current president of the Supreme Court of Justice, Jesús Barrientos, a judge “with a cordial demeanor and conservative spirit,” aspires to access the Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court, according to this profile published in The country, and that he is a member of the moderate Francisco de Vitoria. Judge Javier Hernández, considered progressive, comes from that same court. Other regional courts also provide candidates. This is the case of the Supreme Court of Andalusia, from where the judge Lorenzo Jesús Del Río, also associated with Francisco de Vitoria, comes from; and the TSJ of Madrid, where Leopoldo Puente currently practices.

The other five applicants who are missing to complete the total list of 15 are provincial court magistrates. Four of them, from Madrid. This is the case of Pilar Rasillo, considered progressive, was one of the experts proposed by the PSOE to participate in the commission to reform the controversial Citizen Security Law and Eduardo de Urbano Castrillo, who is placed in the conservative sphere. The other two applicants for the Madrid Court are Joaquín Delgado and María del Rosario Esteban. The magistrate of the Valencia Court, María Dolores Hernández Rueda, is also fighting for a position in the Supreme Court.

Waiting for the decision of the Plenary is also the position of president of the Supreme Court of the Canary Islands after none of the three applicants managed to prevail in a first vote in November last year. Among the applicants is the magistrate of the Audiencia of Las Palmas Pedro Herrera, who was Deputy Minister of Justice with the Canary Coalition. The other two candidates are, also a magistrate of the Las Palmas Court, Félix Mota Bello and Juan Luis Lorenzo Bragado, assigned to the Civil Registry of Santa Cruz de Tenerife. The presidency of the Hearing of Ourense is also in dispute, to which the current acting president, Antonio Piña, and the magistrate Ana del Carmen Blanco Arce are opting.

Presidencies of the Supreme Court

Likewise, the CGPJ plans to award another eight places at the end of this month to whose candidates it is interviewing these weeks and who will not yet know who will make up the final shortlists on which the plenary session will have to decide. Three of them are those corresponding to as many presidencies of the Supreme Court: the Third, Litigation, where the lawsuits against the Administration are seen; the Fourth, Social, in charge of examining labor disputes; and the Fifth, of the Military. The candidates are magistrates of the Supreme Court, as it is one of the requirements that establish the bases.

This election will be a milestone in the history of the Supreme Court because for the first time in history the candidacy for the presidency of one of its five chambers, that of the Social, has been made up solely of women. These are justices Lourdes Arastey and María Luisa Segoviano, both with more than a decade of experience in this Supreme Court, a court that has just 20% female magistrates. Only two candidates attend the Military Chamber: Julián Sánchez Melgar, currently in the Criminal Chamber and who was State Attorney General during the Government of Mariano Rajoy, and Jacobo Barja de Quiroga, who has been in this Chamber since 2014.

To preside over the Litigation Chamber, three applicants choose: Eduardo Calvo Rojas and María del Pilar Teso Gamella, considered progressives; and César Tolosa Tribiño, who acceded to the High Court in 2014 and to which he is linked to the conservative sphere. Its current president has not stood for reelection, Luis Maria Díez-Picazo, who after accessing that position in 2015 thanks to the conservative majority and pressure from Lesmes, starred in a notorious controversy in 2018 when he asked for a review of the sentence handed down by five magistrates of the Chamber that had ruled that it was the banks and not the clients who had to pay the Tax on Documented Legal Acts (AJD) on mortgages. Finally, the Plenary of 31 magistrates agreed with the financial entities.

With these designations, the current CGPJ will have renewed the presidencies of its five jurisdictional chambers being in office. The president of the First Chamber, of the Civil, Francisco Marín Castán; he was reelected in February 2019 and the Second, of the Penal, Manuel Marchena; in October of that year.

The Permanent Commission is also conducting interviews this week to fill five other positions: the presidencies of the Superior Court of Justice of the Basque Country, the Social Chamber of the National High Court and the Cáceres High Court, and two other presidencies of the Chamber in the TSJ of Andalusia and Asturias. The procedure establishes that, after the interviews, this committee proposes a shortlist of candidates for each position and the Plenary once again has the last word. The Permanent Commission agreed last week to delay the plenary session from September 24 to 30 with the aim of being able to win a few days and award the 13 places in the running this month.


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