As drunk as a judge

January 19, 2009

Judge Esther Cunningham The story is out in Britain about Deputy District Judge Esther Cunningham (photo), who had to be escorted from court after kissing a solicitor, swearing at an usher and insulting a prosecutor while ‘fortified’ with brandy. This from a disciplinary tribunal that ‘found it difficult to determine the correct sanction’, according to The Telegraph.

Apparently, Cunningham caused uproar at a hearing in November, at which she was appearing as a solicitor, swaying and clutching a table to steady herself while interrupting proceedings. She also appeared drunk during a legal training course which she was conducting and spoke openly about wanting to punch the chairman of her legal governing body. Cunningham, 54, was banned from practising law for six months after admitting a series of charges including bringing the profession into disrepute. Six months in ‘purgatory’ might make this judge consider the fact that she needs help.

You don’t hear about drunk judges in Spain. Maybe there aren’t any.

On the other hand, you hear about insulting disciplinary proceedings against judges who fail to serve arrest orders on convicted paedophiles. In one notorious case, Sevilla Judge Rafael Tirado was fined a mere €1500 (half the maximum fine, as set by his colleagues) -and never suspended from his courtroom- for failing to make sure that the alleged murderer of five-year-old Mariluz Cortés was sent to jail on prior charges of molesting his own daughter. Tirado has appealed the fine. His court secretary, however, was suspended ‘without salary’ for two years, even though the ultimate responsibility belongs to the judge, who is the secretary’s boss.

juzgados Meanwhile, the judges’ ‘union’ is threatening to strike all over Spain, rightly alleging that they are overwhelmed with work. Judging (forgive the pun) from the state of most of the country’s courtrooms, I’d have to agree with them. Amongst many other things, Spain’s judicial system, which has been notoriously inefficient for much too long, has never been ‘computerized’, leading to a mass of paperwork building up in every corner of court offices, desks, passageways and, in some cases, even the toilets – and, of course, leading to one of the slowest such ‘systems’ in Europe.

Is there any comparison between these two items? You tell me.

(c) Alexander Bewick 2009


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