“The council is designed to perform two functions that are not considered to be in the hands of the government: the appointment of judges and the exercise of discipline, because the judge is controlled by carrot and stick. In March 2014, just four months after taking office as president of the governing body of judges, Carlos Lesmes sparked the race with these statements in an interview with El Mundo. Three of the four judicial unions demanded a correction, and one demanded his resignation. A number of councils of judges demanded a public apology from him.
Eight years later—Lesmes is now out of the institution—his critics argue that the metaphor is part of his mandate. And he did so, in part, thanks to a reform that the People’s Party single-handedly approved in 2013 and that he himself helped develop. This norm multiplied the powers of the president and ended with a three-fifths majority (13 out of 21 members) to appoint key positions, including judges and presidents of the Supreme Court. It became a simple majority (more yes than no), which gave the conservative sector room to establish its candidates. This model was in place until the end of 2018, when the PSOE pushed through another reform that strengthened its majority.
During that period, CGPJ made 32 appointments to the Supreme Court. Of these, 21 were approved by a qualified majority, but a third (a total of 11) came out with a simple majority, which served the president to place similar profiles in the Supreme Court. Mainly in the Litigation-Administrative Chamber (Third), where Lesmes will return “immediately” as he said in his farewell video. It is a key chamber because it decides all complaints against the government and those affecting the decisions of the judiciary. So, for example, in July 2015, Luis Diez Picasso, who later became the protagonist of the worst credibility crisis of the Lesmes mandate due to the change in mortgage tax criteria, was appointed as the president of this chamber.
Lesmes had to issue a public apology after Diez Picasso brought up case law that was detrimental to banking because of the “social and economic” impact the ruling had caused. All parties were on the side of the clients, and the socialist government came to speak on the “very black day” of justice. Diez Picasso came to this position with conservative votes after a pressure campaign by Lesmes, according to some members. Both worked together in the judicial reform of the PP. Diez Picasso won over the then president, a magistrate who tripled his experience and far surpassed him in sentencing. He did not run for re-election and was replaced by incumbent President Cesar Tolosa.
This plenary hearing on the mortgage charge went down in history as one of the most tense moments of the Third Chamber, with severe reprimands for the handling of the case and private votes in which the dissenting magistrates did not hide their anger. The leadership of the president named with the consent of Lesmes was affected before the election of his replacement.
In the first years of Lesmes’s mandate, figures very close to him ended up on the Supreme Court – and with minimal support from the plenary. This is the case of Fernando Roman, a personal friend for decades. He was Secretary of State for Justice in the Mariano Rajoy government and is considered a key figure in his rise to the CGPJ. Roman was appointed Magistrate of the Third Chamber in January 2018, thanks to the support of the ten members elected on the PP’s proposal for candidates with more years of experience. Lesmes abstained from this vote because of his friendship with him, although his vote was not required. Roman is associated with the conservative and Majority Professional Association of the Judiciary (APM), which Lesmes also belonged to before being appointed president.
At that time, José Luis Recero, who was considered very conservative, also joined the Third Chamber of the Supreme Court. He belongs to Opus Dei and was the magistrate who compared homosexual marriage to “the union of man and animal.” His arrival at the High Court in April 2014 opened a rift between the two sectors of the CGPJ, which agreed to share the two vacancies that were at stake at the time. But the name proposed by the progressives (Angel Arosamena) did not appeal to Lesmes, who threatened Recero if they did not support another candidate. The progressives did not give up, and the CGPJ finally elected this judge with eleven votes, from among the members chosen on the proposal of the PP and Lesmes himself. Requero is also associated with APM. Arozamena finally agreed after 15 months at the High Court.
With the support of only nine of the 21 members of the plenary, Dimitri Berberoff got a seat in the third chamber. Prior to his appointment in July 2018, he was the director of the technical office of the Supreme Court, where Lesmes entered the position when he took office. His mission was to help the president, that is, Lesmes himself and the rooms. His appointment was challenged by another magistrate who was in that position. By three votes to two, the magistrates of the same third chamber supported his appointment. In voting against the decision, two magistrates warned that discretionary appointments “delegitimize” the judiciary, according to infoLibre. Berberoff is currently the vice president of APM.
Since January 2014, Ines Huerta, who is considered very close to Lesme, was also part of the same chamber. In his case, he received the support of 16 members of the plenum. He is conservative, but does not belong to any association. He was the judge who defended in the High Court of Justice of Madrid the privatization of health promoted by Ignacio González (PP) in the community of Madrid and that another part of the same court was paralyzed.
Among the controversial appointments of Lesmes’ phase at the helm of the CGPJ is that of Angel Hurtado, which took place in September 2020 after the body had been in office for more than a year and a half. He was promoted to the Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court, which ultimately hears most of the criminal cases that are tried in Spain and which involve corruption cases. Hurtado was the only judge in the Gurtel trial who refused to call Mariano Rajoy as a witness and who cast a separate vote against the sentence confirming the existence of box B in the PP for the party’s acquittal. His appointment was the result of an agreement between the conservative majority and part of the progressive bloc, and he received 19 votes.
In a much tighter vote, former PP senator Vicente Magro was appointed judge of the same Criminal Chamber in January 2018. He received the support of ten conservative members, while Lesmes voted for Javier Hernández, Judges for Democracy. In fact, the appointment of Lesmes resulted in a split among the progressives, who split their votes between the two candidates. The amount of support around Hernandez would allow him to avoid a conservative majority thanks to Lesmes’ vote. Finally, Hernandez was promoted to the Supreme Court in September 2020.
Outside the Supreme Court, Lesmes’ mandate also leaves behind some controversial appointments. This is the case of the now magistrate of the Constitutional Court of Concepción Espejel. In 2017, he was also elected President of the Criminal Chamber of the National Court by a conservative vote. This is a very relevant chamber, as it is tasked with, for example, prosecuting corruption cases investigated in the Special Court and deciding appeals against the rulings of its investigating judges.
Espegel is considered a magistrate close to the People’s Party to the point that he had to recuse himself from several proceedings related to the Gurtel corruption conspiracy. It was in 2014 that María Dolores de Cospedal uttered a phrase that made clear her closeness to the magistrate: the former minister called her “dear Concha” when she was awarded the Cross of San Raimundo de Penafort, the highest award in the field. of the law.
The link to the PP is indisputable in the case of Fernando de Rosa, the party’s current senator, who in 2015 was appointed by the CGPJ of Lesmes as president of the Valencian Provincial Court, the court that hears much of the corruption. Valencia PP. In his case, he received 16 out of 21 plenary votes. Before that, he was Secretary of Justice of the Generalitat of Valenciana (2003-2007) and Minister (2007-2008) in the governments of Francisco Kempes. De Rosa is one of the judges who has crossed the line between politics and the judiciary most often in a career that has always revolved around the PP.
Source: El Diario