Spain's crusading Judge Garzon disbarred for 11 years

MADRID Thu Feb 9, 2012 1:34pm EST

Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon, who tried to extradite former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, sits in the dock at the start of his trial at the Supreme Court in Madrid in this January 17, 2012 file photo. Spain's Supreme Court has found internationally known human rights judge Garzon guilty of authorising the illegal recording of defence lawyers' conversations, a court spokesman said on February 9, 2012. The case is separate from one currently in progress in which Garzon is accused of illegally ordering an inquiry into tens of thousands of suspected murders by forces loyal to Francisco Franco.  REUTERS/Andrea Comas/Files

Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon, who tried to extradite former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, sits in the dock at the start of his trial at the Supreme Court in Madrid in this January 17, 2012 file photo. Spain's Supreme Court has found internationally known human rights judge Garzon guilty of authorising the illegal recording of defence lawyers' conversations, a court spokesman said on February 9, 2012. The case is separate from one currently in progress in which Garzon is accused of illegally ordering an inquiry into tens of thousands of suspected murders by forces loyal to Francisco Franco.

Credit: Reuters/Andrea Comas/Files

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MADRID (Reuters) - Spain's Supreme Court disbarred crusading Judge Baltasar Garzon for 11 years on Thursday for illegally recording defense lawyers' conversations with clients, which may effectively end his career in international human rights trials.

Although less severe than a 17-year ban the prosecution had originally demanded, the court said the ruling was not subject to appeal. Garzon, 56, is also liable to a fine of 2,500 euros

($3,300).

"We shall carry on fighting, carry on appealing. We have a long road ahead, but I believe both he and I are more than strong enough," Garzon's lawyer Javier Baena said after the sentence.

The judge was accused of authorizing police to record conversations between defense lawyers and their clients in a corruption case.

Garzon is on trial in two more cases, one for allegedly abusing his authority by ordering an inquiry into the murder and forced disappearance of more than 100,000 people by forces loyal to late dictator Francisco Franco.

Garzon is charged in that case with violating a 1977 amnesty law. The judge maintains he acted at the request of the families of victims and that international law backs him.

The International Commission of Jurists in Geneva condemned Garzon's conviction.

"The context of this conviction is very worrying. Three proceedings have been opened against a judge who lifted the veil of amnesty protecting alleged crimes against humanity that have yet to be investigated," ICJ President Pedro Nikken said in a statement.

"One might wonder to what extent this sentence is just a way to silence Garzon."

A group supporting Garzon called for a protest in Madrid's central Sol square, birthplace of the "Indignant" movement which inspired the Occupy Wall Street protesters.

In a third trial, Garzon faces charges he dropped an investigation into the head of Spain's biggest bank, Santander, after receiving payments for a course sponsored by the bank in New York.

The judged grabbed headlines around the world in 1998 by using international human rights law to order the arrest in London of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet.

Garzon was already well known in Spain for investigating Basque separatist group ETA. His probe into government death squads in the 1980s is credited with helping to bring down the Socialist government in 1996 elections.

(Reporting by Teresa Larraz; Writing by Martin Roberts; Editing by Andrew Roche)

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