Luisa Estela is down, but not out

Meet Gladys Gutiérrez, the new head of both the entire TSJ and its all-powerful Constitutional Chamber

The Venezuelan Supreme Court (TSJ) selects its leadership at the beginning of the judicial year, every January. This time, it took them until May to finally reach a consensus on its leadership.

Even if incumbent TSJ President Luisa Estela Morales proved her undying loyalty over and over again – with extra points for grovelling – it didn’t get her enough support for a new term, and instead fellow Justice Gladys Gutiérrez was selected to replace her.

Don’t expect any major changes in the way the highest court does business, though, as Gutiérrez has been involved with Chavismo right from the very start. Her red, very red resumé speaks for itself. Still, a couple of former TSJ judges think the new president is actually a step forward when compared to Morales’s “absolutely negative” legacy at the helm of the court.

However, former president Morales could still have huge influence over our judiciary, thanks to a ruling which was published the day before she stepped down from her perch: parts of the Ethical Code for Judges (approved in 2009) were suspended for not “adjusting to constitutional parameters.” Four of the seven members of the Constitutional Chamber voted in favor of abolishing it, but Gutiérrez was kept out of the loop.

With this decision, the internal disciplinary process for judges was put on hold, and it will no longer apply to either TSJ magistrates or any other judges named without the formal competitive examination the law establishes (also known as “temporary judges”), which right now constitute 60% of the entire Venezuelan court system.

The catch is that the task of imposing discipline, suspending, or sacking temporary judges won’t be done by the Judicial Commission – which runs the internal government of the Judicial Branch and has Gutiérrez as its head – anymore, but instead by the Tribunals’ General Inspectorate, held by another magistrate, Morales’s ally Juan José Mendoza.

Morales will continue working with Gutiérrez in the Constitutional Chamber, but awkwardness between the two is to be expected. Morales’s last minute ruling hints that a power struggle inside the TSJ may well be under way.

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  1. Reminds me of this–

    “There is a story, for instance, that has very much the ring of truth about it. It goes like this: One of the older officials, a good and peaceful man, was dealing with a difficult matter for the court which had become very confused, especially thanks to the contributions from the lawyers. He had been studying it for a day and a night without a break — as these officials are indeed hard working, no-one works as hard as they do. When it was nearly morning, and he had been working for twenty-four hours with probably very little result, he went to the front entrance, waited there in ambush, and every time a lawyer tried to enter the building he would throw him down the steps. The lawyers gathered together down in front of the steps and discussed with each other what they should do; on the one hand they had actually no right to be allowed into the building so that there was hardly anything that they could legally do to the official and, as I’ve already mentioned, they would have to be careful not to set all the officials against them. On the other hand, any day not spent in court is a day lost for them and it was a matter of some importance to force their way inside. In the end, they agreed that they would try to tire the old man out. One lawyer after another was sent out to run up the steps and let himself be thrown down again, offering what resistance he could as long as it was passive resistance, and his colleagues would catch him at the bottom of the steps. That went on for about an hour until the old gentleman, who was already exhausted from working all night, was very tired and went back to his office.”
    ― Franz Kafka, The Trial

    • A parable of 14 years of Venezuelan Opposition to Chavismo, except that the old (non-gentle) man got sick and died….

  2. Man, that Luisa Estela is just a regular Lizzie Borden, isn’t she? Muérgana! Es Lina Ron con pelo negro y toga.

    • Chavez, Maduro, Cabello…modern day King Johns?…provoking opposition to stand up and say “enough is enough” and to stand up and protect fundamental liberties. In the History of the English-Speaking Peoples, Winston Churchill wrote: “When the long tally is added, it will be seen that the British nation and the English-speaking world owe far more to the vices of John than to the labours of virtuous sovereigns; for it was through the union of many forces against him that the most famous milestone of our rights and freedom was in fact set up (Magna Carta).”

  3. Boring lawyerly technicality: The Code wasn’t struck down per se, some of its provisions were temporarily suspended as a precautionary measure or injunction before the Chamber reaches a final decision on the validity of the Code.
    To be honest, I don’t think this change will amount to much, the controversial politically decision of the Court are decided by the executive. Rumor has it that Hildegard Rondón de Sansón, former Justice during the cuarta and Rafael Ramirez’ mother-in-law, is writing the Court’s opinion of the impugnación. This will affect the inner mafias and corruption of the TSJ in non-politically controversial cases, where the Justices do have a saying in the outcome.

      • The decision would be temporary. The Chamber can still rule and declare the law constitutional ending the suspension. It will all depend of the power relations in the Chamber when the ruling is issued. Por ahora Luisa Estela ganó un round.

    • Cacr doscientos diez:

      Do you know if Hildegard Rondón de Sansó has, by chance, anything to do with PDVSA manager Baldo Sansó?

      • His full name is Baldó Sansó Rondon. She is his Mother. Her daughter Beatrice Sansó is married to Rafael Ramirez, and she and Hildegard provided special “legal counsel” to PDVSA charging thousands of dollars. Con esta gente todo queda en familia.

          • Do not forget about Rafael´s cousin who manages all the insurance business of PDVSA and lives like a Saudi billionaire. Esta gente es la cosa nostra de la industria petrolera.

        • Grapevine has it that there is a troika of ‘expert’ legal minds which advise the govt on its most sensitive legal cases , it includes Hildegard , and until he died also included Carlos Escarra . ( Beatrice cannot be part of that troika because she is an employee of Pdvsa, the Head of its Cultural – City Beautification Foundation ) . Hildegard was one of the fourth republic magistrates who voted for CAP’s impeachment .


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