Court absolves judges who failed to protect murder victims

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Four judges who indirectly caused the death of a woman by ignoring her pleas that she was harassed by her ex-husband have been cleared of negligence.

6 June 2008

MADRID - Judges who ignored the pleas of a woman living in fear of her former husband have been cleared of negligence and will not face disciplinary action, Spain's judicial watchdog ruled this week.

In April, the woman, Sylvina Bassani, and her partner, army Lieutenant Andrés Marzal, were shot by her ex-husband, army Sergeant Javier Lacasa, who later committed suicide

Despite the three deaths and reports documenting a string of judicial errors, members of the General Council of the Judiciary (CGPJ) ruled unanimously not to impose sanctions on any of the four judges who during the course of two years were responsible for overseeing a gender violence lawsuit filed by Bassani against Lacasa.

Instead, the CGPJ has pinned most of the blame on a lowly court worker who it says was responsible for delaying the processing of Bassani's complaints, including 20 written statements accusing her ex-husband of violating a restraining order.

One judge erred
The decision was taken in spite of the fact that the CGPJ panel did find fault with the actions of one judge in particular, Gemma Susana Fernández, who in April 2007 rejected all of Bassani's protection requests, including that Lacasa be held in pre-trial custody and subjected to a psychiatric evaluation, after he threatened her.

One of those requests included that the court ask the military to confirm whether Lacasa was in possession of a gun. It was his Smith & Wesson 9mm pistol that a year later killed Bassani and Marzal at their home near Guadalajara, and which he later turned on himself.

"We understand that [the judge] may have simply forgotten to respond to the request about the guns and neither [Bassani's] lawyer nor the prosecutor pressed the issue," Montserrat Comas, the spokeswoman for the CGPJ's judiciary committee, said. "Mistakes have been made regarding the refusal to admit the complaints, but we cannot judge that," she added.

The most important mitigating factor, in the view of the CGPJ board, is the fact that Judge Fernández had complained that her court was overburdened with cases and was understaffed.

The court's failure to prevent a seemingly preventable death are not the fault of a single judge or group of judges, the CGPJ appears to concede, but instead are a reflection of an endemically inefficient and overstretched justice system.

[El Pais / Monica C. Belaza / Expatica]

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