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Volume 17, Number 13
January 2, 2012
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news

Also in this section:
Martinelli tries to weather scandals and avoid cabinet changes
Election law changes, another stab at the Mining Code in January
"Conejando" in Panama: what big ears Colombia's exiled spy chief has
Main canal expansion contractor barely staves off bankruptcy --- for now
Noriega settles in at El Renacer, legal skirmishing begins
Martinelli gets his solid Supreme Court majority
Residents and interns on strike at David hospital
Vaclav Havel’s human rights legacy
The failure of the Durban climate talks
The ECB's high wire act
The Internet and Latin America: cyber-security issues
The China - Latin America summit in Lima
South America consolidates its role as an emerging power
South America and Cold War II
When Italian waste companies come here, red flags should pop up

Many things that used to be in a Panama News Briefs feature of the website have now migrated to our constantly updated Facebook page


Magistrates De Leon (left) and Fabrega(right). Photos by the Presidencia

Most unusually, President Martinelli still hasn't named the new Supreme Court magistrates' suplentes

Two high court choices approved with no questions, little debate

by Eric Jackson

Notwithstanding incidents like the 1989 abduction of Manuel Antonio Noriega and extraterritorial pretensions in general, US law does not apply to Panama. Thus, legally speaking, it is probably improper to talk about Panama's Supreme Court as a "Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organization" --- although the US Embassy more or less came to that conclusion several years ago.

On December 13 the National Assembly approved the appointment of Hernán Antonio Batista to the Supreme Court's Civil Bench, and of Luis Ramón Fábrega Sánchez to the high court's Administrative Bench. As is usual here, the nominees were not subjected to any interrogation about their qualifications, incidents in their pasts or their legal philosophies, as is done in many other countries when legislatures consider judicial nominations.

Nobody voted against either nomination, but deputy José Isabel Blandón abstained as to Fábrega, who is the brother of Vice Minister of the Presidency María Fábrega and whose father, former Supreme Court alternate magistrate Jorge Fábrega Ponce, is said to be the most influential of President Martinelli's advisors, although he holds no position in the government.

Some people outside of government claimed that De León's prior job as a magistrate on the DGI's Tax Tribunal is a constitutional bar to appointment to the Supreme Court. Under a 2004 constitutional amendment, "nobody shall be appointed as magistrate of the Supreme Court of Justice who is exercising or has exercised positions of control and jurisdiction in the executive branch during the constitutional period underway." The General Revenue Office (DGI) is part of the executive branch --- the Ministry of Economy and Finance --- and if the magistrates of its Tax Tribunal have no jurisdiction or judicial independence, that would be scandalous in its own right although hardly new for Panama. But the constitutional provision was meant to keep ministers and vice ministers from being raised to the high court, under some strange theory that this would avoid undue political influence on the courts.

The two new magistrates get sworn in when the court comes back from its vacations in January.

Meanwhile, the president has neglected to appoint their suplentes (alternates), which has always been done at the same time that magistrates are appointed. Why it has been done this way, we may soon know --- if there actually was a reason.

Soon a fifth bench --- to go along with the three existing three-member civil, criminal and administrative panels and the full-court "Fourth Bench" --- will come into existence, a constitutional guarantees panel that will raise the high court's membership to 12 and give Ricardo Martinelli three more appointments. With the appointments of Fábrega and De León, there are now four Martinelli appointees on the present nine-member Supreme Court and another solidly reliable (for the president) holdover from the Moscoso administration. When the fifth bench is appointed, the court will have a 7-5 majority of Martinelli appointees.





    

Also in this section:
Martinelli tries to weather scandals and avoid cabinet changes
Election law changes, another stab at the Mining Code in January
"Conejando" in Panama: what big ears Colombia's exiled spy chief has
Main canal expansion contractor barely staves off bankruptcy --- for now
Noriega settles in at El Renacer, legal skirmishing begins
Martinelli gets his solid Supreme Court majority
Residents and interns on strike at David hospital
Vaclav Havel’s human rights legacy
The failure of the Durban climate talks
The ECB's high wire act
The Internet and Latin America: cyber-security issues
The China - Latin America summit in Lima
South America consolidates its role as an emerging power
South America and Cold War II
When Italian waste companies come here, red flags should pop up



© 2012 by Eric Jackson
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