In October last year, the lengthy procedure of the Trenta court case was reopened, which involved the sale of real estate in Trenta by Janez Janša, at the market price. In 2017 already, proceedings were underway to assess the value of the plot, and this time, it is a continuation of the proceedings in court, where Janša is being accused of illegally selling the plot in Trenta. The judge in the proceedings, who was supposed to decide on Janša’s objection to the indictment, has left the senate. One of the judges was subsequently replaced by David Špernjak, who received his master’s degree under the mentorship of Primož Gorkič, who, according to the constitutional court, insulted the constitutional judges by publicly commenting on the constitutional decision in the Patria case. According to Janša’s lawyer Matoz, the court should not subsequently replace one of the judges in the senate, and the question also arises, whether or not Špernjak will really be able to remain unbiased in the matter, as Matoz believes that under Gorkič’s mentorship, he was surely subjectively influenced when it comes to matters related to Janša.
Janez Janša has submitted a request for the exclusion of judges in the trial against the indictment in the old Trenta case, which is an old procedure, which the Slovenian judiciary keeps bringing up in public from time to time. Janša already filed an objection against the indictment last October, and the out-of-court senate will decide on it. Following an invitation to the court to form a panel to decide on the objection in question, the court announced that the said case had been assigned to judge Milena Turuk. Janša’s team then also wanted to know about the composition of the three-member senate, and judge Tomaž Bromše announced that the senate would consist of Irena Škulj Gradišar, Bernard Tajnšek, and Turuk herself, and the session was scheduled for February this year.
At the end of February, the court sent a letter stating that one of the judges in the senate had been replaced and that the senate would be formed in alphabetical order, starting with the president and then members of the senate, and David Špernjak was assigned to the senate. Janša’s representatives requested an explanation as to why the replacement of the judges even happened and requested an extract from the case register to see if the judges had indeed been selected in alphabetical order. Judge Turuk later explained that there had been an error in the signing, as she was only supposed to be the rapporteur in the case and not the president, and she apologised for the mistake. In the letter, she also explained that there might be a change in the composition of the senate, which is set for the schedule in the new year.
The parties that are involved in the proceedings requested to inspect the documentation that would show the judge’s error, as they wanted to verify the correctness in the assignment of the case. It was clear from the attached explanation of the head of the registrar, Primož Golob, that the case was assigned to the natural judge Turuk as the rapporteur in November. Given the documentation received by Janša’s team, they are convinced that there is reasonable doubt about the correctness of the assignment to the natural judge. In the appeal, they emphasised that the case should only be decided by a judge, as the Constitution stipulates that the rights and duties of everyone can only be judged by a judge, who is elected according to the rules determined by the law and the court.
A constitutional provision prevents the subsequent election of a judge
The rules laid down in advance must exclude the discretion of any state body in determining the judge to decide in a particular case. These ruled must not leave room for any unnecessary uncertainty in the choice of the judge, and together with the Constitution, they must protect the parties from the arbitrariness of public authorities. As it was established from the aforementioned “manual register,” it was not possible to determine whether the judges were assigned correctly, nor can this be determined from the explanation of the court. Namely, the court order stipulates that the registrar must enable the party to verify the correctness of the assignment of judges, and as previously mentioned, there was also an error in the judge’s signing.
Špernjak’s mentor was Primož Gorkič, who unfoundedly criticised the decision of the Constitutional Court
Every individual has the right to a fair trial, otherwise, the public may lose confidence in the work of the court. As for the appointment of judge Špernjak, Janša’s team believes that his appointment and decision-making are only the beginning of another politically mounted trial, as, just like in the Patria case, the proceedings are lengthy and without any clear evidence of a crime. In addition to the fact that this was a subsequent decision of judge Šprenjak, the bias of the trial is also evidenced by the fact that he received his master’s degree under the mentorship of the Chief Justice and professor of Criminal Law at the Faculty of Law in Ljubljana, Primož Gorkič. In the past, Gorkič was unfoundedly critical of the constitutional provision in the Patria case, which annulled the illegal judgments of the regular courts against Janša. As reported by the media, Gorkič’s criticism at the time was sharp and even indecent.
In the Patria case, the Constitutional Court ruled that Janša’s trial was also unfair because the then-President of the Supreme Court, Branko Masleša, did not withdraw from the decision-making process. Gorkič responded to the decision of the Constitutional Court with an article in the newspaper Delo, entitled “Patria for dummies, sorry, for lawyers,” with which, as the former constitutional judge Matevž Krivic later assessed, he insulted the constitutional judges with the title alone. He then ran for the position of chief judge twice, as the National Assembly did not support him in the first vote. In the past, he had a markedly negative attitude towards Janša, and thus, there is also reason for suspicion that his student Špernjak was subject to his beliefs. Therefore, there is also a well-founded doubt about the impartiality of judge Špernjak.