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Cablegate: Panama: Ad Hoc Committee Wades Through Supreme

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RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHZP #1895/01 3542159
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 202159Z DEC 07
FM AMEMBASSY PANAMA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 1573
INFO RHMFISS/CDR USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHDC
RHMFISS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC
RHEHAAA/NSC WASHDC
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC

UNCLAS PANAMA 001895

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PM
SUBJECT: PANAMA: AD HOC COMMITTEE WADES THROUGH SUPREME
COURT MAGISTRATE NOMINEES


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Summary
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1. (SBU) An ad hoc committee, named by President Martin
Torrijos, on December 17, began wading through the
applications of candidates interested in filling one of two
seats Panama's Supreme Court. In keeping with the method
established for his last nominations, Torrijos named this
committee to provide political cover to name new magistrates
to the top court in Panama's troubled judiciary and to
demonstrate his willingness to consult with civil society.
The committee has 10 days to report to Torrijos. Torrijos
then has until December 31 to nominate two individuals to
serve on the court and secure approval of two-thirds of the
National Assembly's Deputies. By the December 15 deadline
for nominating individuals to the committee, a total of 74
individuals had been proposed. According to Panama's ever
churning rumor mill, two early front runners are criminal
lawyer and former Supreme Court Assistant Jeronimo Mejia and
governing Revolutionary Democratic Party (PRD) National
Assembly Deputy Roberto Abrego. On December 18, Alliance for
Justice President Magaly Castillo called on the ad hoc
committee, of which she is a member, to publish a short list
of the most qualified candidates, a provision that is
unlikely to be implemented. End Summary.

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The Ad Hoc Committee
--------------------

2. (SBU) In accordance with Article 203 of Panama's
Constitution, Torrijos must appoint two new Supreme Court
Magistrates by December 31. Each appointee would serve
10-year terns and replace current Supreme Court President
Graciela Dixon and Magistrate Jose Troyano, both of whom are
stepping down at the conclusion of their 10-year terms.
Dixon and Troyano were appointed by former President Ernesto
"El Toro" Perez Balladares, who is also a PRD member.

3. (SBU) To manage growing civil society concern regarding
appointments to Panama's high court and to offer a semblance
of broad consultation, Torrijos once again chose to name an
ad hoc committee. This committee is composed of
representatives from the Pro-Justice Alliance NGO, the
National College of Lawyers, the National Association of
Judges and Magistrates, the Ecumenical Council, and others.
National College of Lawyers President (and active PRD member)
Marta Lopez de Martin presides over this ad hoc committee.
Lopez is also an advisor to the National Assembly. The
committee is not empowered to screen out candidates, but will
provide extensive comments on each candidates'
qualifications. The Committee was to begin 30-minute
interviews with each candidate beginning December 17.
Torrijos will then pick his two nominees from this pool of 74
candidates. On December 18, Alliance for Justice President
Magaly Castillo called on the ad hoc committee, of which she
is a member, to publish a short list of the most qualified
candidates, a provision that is unlikely to be implemented.

-------------------------------
The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
-------------------------------

4. (SBU) The Good -- The list of 74 candidates includes
several individuals who are generally perceived as being
highly professional and have reasonably good reputations.
Included in this category are:

-- Superior Court Magistrates Luis Carrasco, Wilfredo Saenz,
and Aidelna Pereira;
-- the current Secretary General of the Attorney General's
Office Rigoberto Gonzalez;
-- the current Secretary General of the Public Defender's
(Ombudsman's) Office, Carlos Vasquez;
-- former FM and legislator Oyden Ortega;
-- current judge Ileana Turner;
-- current prosecutor Maruquel Castroverde;
-- former prosecutor Guillermina de McDonald;
-- current head of the public defenders' institute Gabriel
Fernandez;
-- current head of the judicial school Hipolito Gil; and
-- private sector attorney, nominated by a group of
businessmen, Aura Feraud who previously served on the now
extinct Panama Canal Commission and as Solicitor General.

5. (SBU) The Bad -- Most of the names on the candidates list
are widely seen as being bad, ill-prepared, or simply
unknown. Much to their chagrin, civil society groups,
business chambers, and other NGOs beating the bushes to find
candidates found few takers.

6. (SBU) The Ugly -- In addition to former dictator Manuel
Antonio Noriega's attorney, Ramiro Fonseca, there are a few
unscrupulous candidates. Maritime Magistrate Calixto
Malcolm, suspected of corrupt activities and also denounced
by Panama's biggest and most powerful law firm, Morgan and
Morgan, for improper dealings, is among the candidates. The
judge, Eugenia Lopez Arias who presided over the manipulated
1997 trial of current National Assembly President Pedro
Miguel Gonzalez (PMG) is also a candidate. Lopez engaged in
numerous improper ex parte contacts with PMG's defense
counsel in this trial that eventually acquitted PMG of
charges in connection with the 1992 murder of a U.S.
serviceman.

----------------
The Frontrunners
----------------

7. (SBU) According to Panama's often overheated rumor mill,
two early frontrunners are criminal lawyer and former Supreme
Court Assistant Jeronimo Mejia and PRD legislator Robert
Abrego. Mejia, who represents Panama City broadsheet daily
La Prensa, has been involved in a number of freedom of speech
cases. Abrego is less well known, but benefits from strong
PRD connections. As the former head of the Legislative
Government Committee, Abrego played a key role in the
dismissal of Supreme Court Magistrate Manuel Faundes.
Faundes' dismissal paved the way for Torrijos to appoint his
first magistrate to the high court, Esmeralda de Troitino.

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Comment
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8. (SBU) Most of the candidates, many of whom were
self-nominated, have no chance at being named to the Supreme
Court. Additionally, one has to wonder about the very
ability of the committee to review the applications of and
interview the 74 candidates, most of whom have no hope of
ever being nominated, during the week before Christmas. Many
observers view Torrijos' consultation mechanism as insincere,
especially this time since it is being managed by a PRD
partisan. Post will continue to track and report on the
Supreme Court Magistrate nomination process.
EATON

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