Benefit criminals, keep innocent people in prison, break their impartiality by not abstaining in matters of direct interest to family members or accumulate delays in passing sentences. These are the main reasons that, since its creation in 1978, have led the General Council of the Judiciary (CGPJ) to expel judges from the career for disciplinary reasons. However, it is a very exceptional performance: in more than four decades, only six magistrates have been punished with the maximum disciplinary sanction, which is the definitive separation. In addition, three of these expulsions were overturned by the Supreme Court with different arguments.
The CGPJ expels José Antonio Martín from the judicial career
The governing body of the judges – which is now moving towards the three-year term expired – has powers to demand disciplinary responsibility from judges and magistrates if their conduct deviates from a series of principles valued among which are independence, impartiality or respect for the parties, among others. The penalties for offenses committed in the exercise of their positions can range from simple warnings or financial fines to forced transfers, suspensions of up to three years and expulsions. In these last three cases, the decision corresponds to the plenary session, where it must be approved with an absolute majority. That is, at least eleven of the twenty members plus the president.
In addition to these disciplinary sanctions, the governing body of the judges can also agree to suspensions when a magistrate is prosecuted for the commission of alleged crimes committed in the exercise of his functions or when he is sentenced to disqualification from office, which may imply the loss of the status of judge and the obligation to participate in competitions to obtain a new place, for which it must also have a declaration of “aptitude” from the CGPJ. One of the best known cases is that of Baltasar Garzón, who was, first, suspended in a precautionary manner from his duties and, later, separated by virtue of the eleven-year disqualification sentence imposed by the Supreme Court for the “arbitrary” wiretapping to the Gürtel lawyers.
Judge Manuel Arce has been the last expelled from the career for disciplinary reasons. The CGPJ agreed to set him aside on September 23 due to his poor performance. By fourteen to seven votes, the plenary session approved his final separation due to a very serious lack of inattention and non-compliance with duties after having been sanctioned up to a dozen times in recent years for accumulating “unjustified” delays in his different destinations. The last one, as head of the court of first instance number 5 of Tarragona. Arce, who was already removed from the court when the investigation began at the proposal of the Disciplinary Commission, had an average of three sentences per month when the average per magistrate is usually 240 a year and accumulated a large number of unresolved issues. It is the first time that the CGPJ has definitively expelled a magistrate for this reason.
Before him, five other magistrates had been punished with the maximum disciplinary sanction, which is definitive expulsion, although the Supreme Court revoked three of those expulsions. The first magistrates in the history of the CGPJ to be removed for disciplinary reasons were Jaime Rodríguez Hermida and Ricardo Varón Cobos, assigned to the High Court and the National Court, respectively, for their involvement in the scandal of the release of the head of the Neapolitan camorra, Antonio Bardellino.
Although they were acquitted from criminal proceedings – as the judges understood that the decision of Varón Cobos to release Bardellino was legal – they were punished by the separation of the judicial career by the CGPJ in May 1986. Almost two years later In January 1988, the Supreme Court confirmed the expulsion of Rodríguez Hermida but allowed Varón Cobos to return to the judicial career, who reduced the penalty imposed from very serious to serious fault, with a penalty of 50,000 pesetas (300 euros). In its decision, the Third Chamber considered it proven that Rodríguez Hermida “exerted pressure” on Varón Cobos to release Bardellino, a “dangerous and habitual criminal wanted by the Interpol service”.
For a formal issue, the Supreme Court annulled in 2012 the punishment of José Antonio Martín Martín, another judge separated from the race for allegedly favoring the release of a criminal. In this case, Rafael Bornia, one of the most important drug traffickers in Europe. According to the judgment of the Superior Court of Justice of the Canary Islands, later overturned by the Supreme Court, Martín gave instructions to a businessman friend of his on how Bornia should act so that he was granted bail in a hearing in which he knew he was going to be the president. Although he was acquitted by criminal means, the CGPJ continued with the disciplinary route and expelled him from the race in 2010, considering that he had committed four very serious offenses. Two years later, in 2012, the Supreme Court annulled that expulsion because the CGPJ exceeded the six-month period to investigate it.
The expulsion from the career of Judge Pilar Ramírez decreed by the CGPJ in 2000 was also revoked by the High Court for not abstaining from matters to which the Marbella City Council was a party despite her father and brother having urban planning agreements. with that Consistory. In 2002, the Supreme Court lowered this punishment from expulsion to suspension for three years on the understanding that it was not “proportionate” to the injury caused by the judge to the principle of impartiality. It did fully confirm the other sanction of one year of suspension imposed by the CGPJ when it was proven that the number of inhabitants of Marbella does not exceed 100,000 inhabitants and, therefore, he could not practice in that population because his family had economic interests there.
Yes, the expulsion of a judge, Adelina Entrena, was ratified by the Supreme Court, who forgot to order the release of three prisoners. One of them improperly spent more than a year in jail, resulting in the judge being tried and sentenced to one year of separation from service. However, in the disciplinary procedure, the CGPJ agreed to expel her from the career in 2007, estimating that she had committed four very serious infractions of neglect of judicial powers. Three of them due to specific delays in the release of prisoners and a fourth due to the “lack of control” of the court. The Supreme Court ratified that decision in 2010. Entrena was found dead in her home in 2014.
Execution of sentences
In addition to these disciplinary sanctions, the CGPJ also executes the penalties imposed in a final judgment against judges and magistrates. That is to say, it agrees to separations from the career when there is a criminal disqualification conviction, which means the loss of the status of judge. Sources from the institution explain that, in this case, there are two ways to achieve readmission: overcoming any of the modes of entry, like any other citizen, or requesting rehabilitation from the governing body.
These same sources explain, however, that when the conviction has been for crimes related to the Administration of Justice, it is usual for those requests for rehabilitation to be rejected. This happened, for example, in the case of Francisco Serrano, a Vox exporter in Andalusia, who was convicted of prevarication when he was a magistrate. The CGPJ refused in 2017 to return the toga, although that decision was also reversed by the Supreme Court.
The newspaper library collects a multitude of cases of judges removed from the career for having been disqualified for the position. Among the best known is the aforementioned by Baltasar Garzón, but there is much more. One of the first magistrates expelled after being convicted was Pascual Estevill, to whom the Superior Court of Justice of Catalonia imposed a 15-year disqualification sentence for issuing unfair resolutions and extorting businessmen and bankers under threats of sending them to prison. The Supreme Court confirmed the sentence in 2006.
Other judges set apart by the CGPJ in compliance with judicial sentences are Javier Gómez de Liaño, convicted of prevaricating in the so-called Sogecable case; Francisco Urquía, convicted of collecting 60,000 euros in exchange for releasing a defendant; Elpidio Silva, convicted of prevaricating by sending banker Miguel Blesa to jail on two occasions; o Salvador Alba, convicted of conspiring against the judge on leave of absence and current Government delegate against gender violence, Victoria Rosell.