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Cablegate: Dominican Elections #23 - Politics Affects The

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 SANTO DOMINGO 001299

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

DEPARTMENT FOR WHA/CAR (MCISAAC)

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: KJUS PGOV PREL DR
SUBJECT: DOMINICAN ELECTIONS #23 - POLITICS AFFECTS THE
SUPREME COURT

REF: SANTO DOMINGO

1. (SBU) This is cable number 23 in our presidential election series.

Politics affects the Supreme Court
President Mejia's PRD appears to be positioning itself to pack the Supreme Court with PRD party members, less than
three months before the presidential election, If Mejia loses the May 16 elections, friends and PRD supporters on the
Court could prevent successful prosecutions of Mejia administration officials for real or alleged abuses while in
office.

Since February 16 both the Senate and House have named members to a Judicial Council (Consejo Nacional de la

Magistatura or CNM). The CNM has authority to select judges for vacancies on the Supreme Court and to designate the Chief Justice. Members of the CNM are the President of the Republic, the presidents of the Senate and the House, one other Senator and one other Representative, the Chief Justice, and one other Supreme Court Associate Judge to act as secretary.

There are no vacancies on the bench, so the only apparent item of business for a newly convened CNM would be the
selection of a new President of the Supreme Court. Supreme Court president Jorge Subero Isa, a respected jurist,
has led the reform-minded court of 16 members since 1997. Hehas been apolitical since ascending to the bench. In
mid-January he threatened to resign from his position after sharp clashes in open court and in chambers with other

judges; he delivered a letter to other court members formally requesting a vote of confidence of at least three-quarters of the justices. Prominent NGOs and members of civil society urged him to remain. This Embassy did the same. Subero Issa reportedly received the requested endorsement from his fellow justices. In private, he has told the Embassy that the Court is under "tremendous pressure."

Both legislators chosen for the CNM are from the PRSC and are said to be friendly to the President's PPH faction of the PRD. Debate in the House on February 20 included complaints about the slow progress in judicial reform. House Chairman Alfredo Pacheco commented that the renewal of the CNM was needed in order to "oversee the Court."

The Council can now be convoked at the pleasure of the President. If it names a new Chief Justice, the touchy
Subero Isa would certainly resign. This would create a vacancy which would allow the PRD to select a Supreme Court
Chief Justice more to its liking and to nominate a PRD sympathizer to Subero Isa's vacated slot.

With Subero Issa gone, the PRD could increase the pressure on three other justices to resign. All are over the mandatory retirement age of 75 set by the 1997 Judicial Career Act; since they were already serving lifetime appointments on the Court at that time they were "grandfathered" into their positions. By naming a new Chief Justice plus three new justices, the PRD could compromise the Court's independence.

The count of patent PRD sympathizers would rise from 7, headed by Subero Issa's severest critic Justice Luciano, to 11, a majority.

In 1997 when the Court was reformed, civil society organizations played a prominent role in "vetting" nominees, objecting successfully to some with limited qualifications at the bar; in 2000, however, the CNM ignored comments from civil society, appointing three justices whose ties with the PRD were stronger than their service with the judiciary. If the CNM wrests for itself the role of appointing new justices, the litmus test of its intentions will be its receptiveness to civil society comment. (There is no equivalent here to our American Bar Association; the "Colegio de Abogados" is by and large a social association ad there is no authority which certifies the qualifications of would-be attorneys or jurists.)

The Chief Justice sets the Court's agenda. A PRD partisan in that chair could see that cases of particular interest to the PRD could be heard expeditiously or delayed indefinitely.

Regardless of the outcome of the presidential election, the PRD will retain its control of the Senate and its near-control of the Chamber of Deputies at least until the congressional elections of 2006. The recent maneuverssuggest that PRD dominance in Congress is seeking PRD dominance in the judicial branch. If Leonel Fernandez comes home triumphant, as many expect, he would have a decidedly unsympathetic set of faces ready to move against him in the other branches of government. And, just as much of concern, the packing of the Supreme Court would be a setback to efforts sice 1997 to strengthen the judiciary and to make it independent.

2. (U) Drafted by Angela Kerwin.

3. (U) This report, our entire election series and other
current material can be consulted on our SIPRNET website:
http://www.state.sgov.gov/p/wha/santodomingo/ index.cfm .
MARSHALL

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