Editorials: Change in Panama’s courts (we hope); and The US impasse

Corte Suprema
Once upon a time the building housed the better part of Gorrgas Hospital, where people quite often got well. As the seat of Panama’s Supreme Court of Justice the “patient” —  the rule of law in this country — has rallied a few times but overall become worse and worse.

With a new female majority, a formal end to political patronage is declared for much of the legal system

The prosecutors are still a problem, and the civil and administrative benches are so far not seeing the sweeping changes. However, seven of the nine members of the high court have declared most of the country’s criminal court judges and most of the public defenders’ jobs vacant.

The change in criminal procedure systems from the inquisitorial one flowing from Roman law and the Napoleonic Code to ad adversarial one partly cribbed from the Common Law systems, particularly those of the USA, had been a long time in coming. I was determined in Martinelli times that the two systems were so different that the judges and prosecutors for the phasing-in accusatory system (SPA, for Sistema Penal Acusatorio) would be an entirely different cast of characters than before.

Ricardo Martinelli had hoped and expected to extend his presidency via the election of proxies in 2014 and was well on his way toward stacking the system. However, in May of 2014 he lost.

Panama has no popularly elected judges. Magistrates of the Supreme Court are appointed for 10-year terms, not all at once but on a staggered schedule. The high court has supervisory control over the lower courts, although there had been a bit of progress toward a civil service system for lower court judges over the years. But adoption of the SPA was intended by Martinelli to totally disrupt that. Out goes Martinelli, in comes Varela, and in August of 2015 a civil service system for penal court judges was adopted — and put under the control of José Ayú Prado, a Martinelli appointee to the high court. It was argued that since the money had not been appropriated for the civil service system to be adopted — competitive exams, background checks and those sorts of things — a high court magistrate would be entrusted with the discretion to appoint. Ayú Prado appointed some 80 percent of the penal system’s judges. The public defenders, both for the accused at the various stages of the courts system and for those supposed to represent crime victims, were also hired by this “discretionary” political patronage system.

On January 3 two new Cortizo appointees, the relatively unknowns Miriam Cheng Rosas on the civil bench and María Chen Stanziola on the administrative bench, were sworn in. That afternoon the court plenum met with Ayú Prado absent (reportedly for depression) and Cecilio Cedalise abstaining, electing María Eugenia López Arias as the presiding magistrate. The next day Ayú Prado published his statement of what he owns, which he actually needed to do in 2013 when he joined the court.

On the sixth the court plenum declared all of the SPA judges’ positions to be vacant. It doesn’t mean that they are immediately fired, but that the process of replacing them with civil servants has begun. On the 11th President Cortizo said that a $15 million special budget appropriation will be forthcoming to finance this process. On the 13th the court plenum declared that all of the public defender posts are similarly vacant and those holding them stand to be replaced.

Might some of the current officials retain their jobs through the civil service system? Probably some will. Might this new departure be only new in that it brings in a bunch of PRD political appointees? Perhaps that might happen.

José Ayú Prado and Ricardo Martinelli just lost a crowd of their loyalists. The courts had already lost most of their believers in Panama. Other key components of the justice system — the civil and administrative judges, the prosecutors, the comptroller general, the electoral judges and the electoral prosecutors — remain in place.

We shall see what the new lineup, five women and four men, will deliver. Perhaps some more confidence in Panamanian justice, because there will be more reason for it.


One common Democratic strategy chart. It’s likely that defending blue seats in Georgia, Arizona and Nevada will be great challenges, and as the election season advances Democrats may put Kentucky and Louisiana in play. How Dems do in November will in many cases depend on the approaches of the people whom they nominate.

So that betrayal only pays for a year or so…

One big issue in the 2022 elections is whether Donald Trump will get one or both houses of Congress answering to his beck and call. However, he will not be on the ballot. There will be all the usual vilification, but Democrats must convince US voters that they have worthy and possible things to offer. In many cases it will be about Democratic candidates for the US Senate running aginst Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema more than against the Republicans. A big win for Democrats can make these two senators irrelevant.

Then, strip away strategy and propaganda and what this year’s US elections are is a contest between the very rich who have taken almost everything and are demanding more, versus everybody else. The contest will be fought on shifting ground in which all manner of sleazy ploys to keep people from voting will be used. But then vote suppression might be just the issue that sends unprecedented crowds of angry Americans to the polls. Although there are plenty of state and local officials ready to take it away, there is a right under federal law for US citizens living abroad to vote for federal offices (US representative and US senator this year. Check your voting status and get registered now.


English writer Charles Dickens, who grew up poor and was a court reporter as his “day job” at one point.

No one is useless in this world who lightens the burden of it for anyone else.

Charles Dickens


Bear in mind…


All formal dogmatic religions are fallacious and must never be accepted by self-respecting persons as final.

Hypatia of Alexandria


Courage is not simply one of the virtues but the form of every virtue at the testing point.

C.S. Lewis


Once you give them the power to tell you you’re great, you’ve also given them the power to tell you you’re unworthy. Once you start caring about people’s opinions of you, you give up control.

Ronda Rousey



Contact us by email at fund4thepanamanews@gmail.com

To fend off hackers, organized trolls and other online vandalism, our website comments feature is switched off. Instead, come to our Facebook page to join in the discussion.

These links are interactive — click on the boxes

night oil