On August 27 came the news that the legal proceedings against the Hungarian Guard that were supposed to continue on Monday, September 1, will be postponed because the judge recused herself and her request to step down from the case was granted by her superior, the head of the Civil Division (Polgári Kollégium) at the Budapest Court. Let me give the exact legal definition of "recusation" as it appears in Black's Law Dictionary. "In the civil law, a species of exception or plea to the jurisdiction, to the effect that the particular judge is disqualified from hearing the case by reason of interest or prejudice." To translate this into less legalistic language, "to recuse" means to disqualify oneself as a judge in a particular case either to avoid a conflict of interest or because of prejudicial bias. The judge could have asked the head of the Civil Division to be disqualified at the outset if her son was a member of the Magyar Gárda. Or she could have refused the assignment if she had such strong sympathy or antipathy toward the Hungarian Guard that she could not have judged the case on its merits.
But this wasn't the case, although the Budapest Court used the word "recusation." No, the judge received a couple of nasty anonymous telephone calls and she became scared. As Albert Takács, former minister of justice, said this morning: when a person decides to be a judge he/she ought to realize that the job has its dangers. It goes with the territory. Can you imagine if every judge who handles a murder case would recuse himself on the grounds that he received threatening letters from the relatives or friends of the accused? Moreover imagine the following. I'm the defendant in a civil suit and I don't like the judge because it looks as if he is going to rule against me. So I ask my friends to make a few threatening telephone calls and, behold, the judge recuses himself. New judge, new chance. And if I don't like the look of that judge, I can repeat the game until I get a sympathetic judge.
As some legal experts who commented on this case said, this latest "shakes the Hungarian judicial system at its very foundations." One lawyer suggested that it was not the smartest thing for the Budapest Court to announce the real reasons for the judge's retirement from the case. She could have been quietly removed and another person appointed in her place. Well, perhaps the Budapest Court would have looked better if the truth didn't become public, but somehow I don't think that would have been the proper and decent way of handling the case. As is usual with Hungarian judges, the answer is that the head of the Civil Division "had to grant her request, the law doesn't not allow any other possibility." Occasionally one has the feeling that some of these judges can't even read the law because I simply can't believe that the law would say that "if you're scared you can just retire from the case."
The Hungarian Guard immediately denied that they had anything to do with the intimidation of the judge and expressed their outrage that there are some people who try to influence "the independent Hungarian court system." The only thing I could imagine at this point was that the Hungarian Guard is intimating that perhaps some "lawless" Gypsies made the threatening telephone calls.
The whole thing is outrageous. Mind you, it was already outrageous that an important and politically loaded case has been dragging on for months. If I recall correctly, the first court date was sometime in April. In between a few pretty horrendous things happened: the guardists waving red and white striped flags in the courtroom or some of the guardists blockading the doors and not allowing journalists and heads of one of the Gypsy organizations into the courtroom. The spokesman for the Budapest Court gave only feeble explanations for these rather unusual events. Perhaps indeed this judge was not really fit to handle this case, but leaving the scene like a scared rabbit and calling it recusation, well, that is too much. At least in my opinion.