Paraguay: Four Supreme Court Judges Face Impeachment; Two Others Resign

Article excerpt

The Paraguayan Chamber of Deputies has begun the process to hold impeachment trials for four members of the nation's corruption-tainted Corte Suprema de Justicia (CSJ). The resignation of two justices hastened the process of overhauling the court, even as the lower house considered the accusations against four of the seven remaining magistrates.

On Oct. 21, Sen. Carlos Filizzola, former mayor of Asuncion and leader of the opposition Partido Pais Solidario (PPS), said that opposition leaders and the president were meeting to reach an agreement on the reform of the court. He said one sticking point was the number of justices who would face impeachment.

The governing Partido Colorado (Asociacion Nacional Republicana, ANR)--which has been in power since 1954--wanted no more than four removed. The opposition PPS, Partido Liberal Radical Autentico (PLRA), Patria Querida (PQ), Encuentro Nacional (EN), and Partido Union Nacional de Ciudadanos Eticos (PUNACE) said that, if they could not remove all nine, at least six should go.

On Oct. 24, President Nicanor Duarte--who took office Aug. 15 pledging to wage an all-out fight against corruption-- and his Partido Colorado lawmakers agreed with the opposition to impeach six of the nine CSJ justices.

Partido Colorado president Herminio Caceres said Duarte's aim was to "unify the disparate stances on this question held by the various political sectors."

In a press conference, Filizzola said it was a historic moment in the effort to reform the judiciary. "We are talking about six ministers out of a court of nine," he said. "It is a task that has required much effort, and you see the case of Argentina, to give a close-by example, they began with one and today they are on the third minister (see NotiSur, 2003-10- 31."

Filizzola said the vacancies would be filled through a selection process carried out by the Consejo de la Magistratura, and the impeachment process would begin in the lower house, as stipulated in the Constitution.

Vice President Luis Castiglioni said the justices facing impeachment included Jeronimo Irala Burgos, Carlos Fernandez Gadea, Raul Sapena Brugada, Felipe Santiago Paredes, CSJ president Bonifacio Rios Avalos, and Luis Lezcano Claude.

Duarte and the opposition parties agreed that justices Wildo Rienzi, Antonio Fretes, and Victor Nunez--the last three judges named to the CSJ--would not be submitted to an impeachment process. All three have ties to the Partido Colorado.

Justices resign to avoid impeachment

Justices Irala and Sapena handed in their resignations Oct. 27 to avoid the political trial. Sapena presented his resignation to CSJ president Rios Avalos, who is also facing impeachment.

In his letter, Sapena said that "the list of [CSJ justices] to be submitted to an impeachment process was made public. Although several people involved in the negotiations said they would give us the chance to exercise our right to defense, we must take into consideration that our removal has been repeatedly mentioned in other statements."

Sapena said he was resigning "with peace and without rancor." He said, given the political nature of the process, it was quite possible that he would be unable to mount a successful defense since "evidently the politicians are considering other factors and not just the legal ones," leaving him no alternative but to resign.

Irala, who is in ill health, presented his resignation through his lawyer, Daniel Mendoca, in a short note addressed to the head of the Senate.

The resignations were a surprise. "There were no signs that they were coming," said Jorge Seall, a law professor at the Universidad Nacional in Asuncion and the Universidad Catolica. "I have the highest esteem for Irala, and I doubt that any evidence of improper conduct would have been found. Although he might have committed some omissions, they would have mainly been a consequence of his increasingly poor health. …