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In latest scandal, Mexican judges fight in court

August 29, 2013

MEXICO CITY (AP) — A Mexican judge sprang from his chair to push and punch two fellow justices during a court session, adding to a string of embarrassments for Mexico’s scandal-plagued judicial system.

The head of the Morelos state appeals court said Thursday that Justice Miguel Angel Falcon had brought shame upon the court and faces possible impeachment, though he couldn’t be immediately suspended following the Wednesday attack.

The stocky Falcon got mad at fellow judge Ruben Jasso, at one point calling him “stupid,” and then became enraged when Jasso accused Falcon of insulting him.

As Jasso spoke, Falcon suddenly leaped from his chair, rushed over to Jasso and began pummeling him, apparently knocking him to the floor. Another justice who got in his way was knocked back into his chair.

The court’s chief, Justice Nadia Lara Chavez, said the judges are studying how to start the complex process of disciplining Falcon.

“We are very ashamed that such a thing could happen in a high appeals court,” Lara Chavez said. “There are some people who just do not have the tolerance to accept certain comments.”

Falcon’s office said he was not available for comment.

The incident in Morelos follows a chain of other cases that have stained judicial reputations.

The National Human Rights Commission declared Tuesday that a former chief justice of the nation’s Supreme Court, as well as Mexico City court officials, had misused the justice system in a vendetta against the justice’s ex-girlfriend, the mother of his two autistic children, keeping her in prison for about a year on trumped-up charges.

The former chief justice, Genaro Gongora, was fighting the woman’s lawsuit to gain higher child-support payments. He accused her of illegally keeping property meant for the two children, even though she lived with the boys.

The rights commission said courts refused to dismiss the baseless charges and the city’s human rights authorities failed to investigate the violations of her rights.

The commission called on the court system and city officials to apologize to the woman and pay damages arising from the year she spent in prison.

The woman had told local media that Gongora used his influence in the court system to unfairly keep her in jail. Gongora at one point issued an apology to the woman.

Earlier in the month, an appeals court in the western state of Jalisco freed famed drug kingpin Rafael Caro Quintero, who had been sentenced to 40 years in prison for the 1985 kidnapping and killing of U.S. DEA agent Enrique Camarena, and was 12 years short of finishing that sentence. But the court ordered his release on Aug. 9, saying he had been improperly tried in a federal court for state crimes.

Legal experts called the ruling unusual, because such jurisdictional questions are usually handled by referring the case back to the appropriate court — not by voiding the trial and freeing the convicted person.

The Attorney General’s Office called the ruling, which could be applied to Caro Quintero’s co-defendants in the Camarena case, “unsustainable,” and last week asked the Supreme Court to step in.

On Wednesday, a court in the Caribbean coast state of Quintana Roo raised hackles by overruling authorities in the resort city of Cancun who had denied a permit to an exhibition center that many fear will sell largely Chinese-made goods. The city called the ruling “excessive” and said it would appeal.

Suspicions about the impartiality or professionalism of Mexican judges have frequently arisen among prosecutors and the general public, but Miguel Sarre, an expert in law at the Technological Institute of Monterrey, said they’re not the weakest link in Mexico’s creaky-but-changing legal system.

“I’m not justifying the judges, but they are the ones who bear the least responsibility” for problems in the justice system, Sarre said. “There are a lot more problems on the prosecutors’ side.”

Prosecutors frequently bungle cases, introduce illegally gathered evidence, make procedural errors or violate suspects’ rights. That has led to high-profile acquittals such as that of Florence Cassez, a French woman whose 60-year sentence for kidnapping was overturned in January by Mexico’s Supreme Court because of procedural and rights violations during her arrest, including police staging a recreation of her capture for the media.

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