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Harley Mitchell Responds to Ambassador Eaton's Statements

Law & Lawyers
Newly Elected President of Panama's Supreme Court Harley Mitchell
Newly Elected President of Panama's Supreme Court Harley Mitchell
By José Otero for La Prensa - Harley Mitchell, in his first public statement as the new President of Panama's Supreme Court, questioned statements made recently by US Ambassador to Panama William Eaton, for his criticisms of Panamanian justice. Mitchell, who was elected as the next President of Panama's Supreme Court with six votes in favor and three abstentions, said Eaton "has neither the suitability nor legitimacy" to question the Panamanian justice system. He said that although he agrees in part with some of what the ambassador said, Mitchell said that Eaton is not the appropriate person to criticize the Panamanian justice system, a task which should fall to Panamanians. On Monday 15 October Eaton said "when some foreign investors are victims of murky or arbitrary judicial process, it is only a matter of time before their bad experiences circulate." The newly elected President of the Supreme Court will take over on 2 January 2008 with Esmeralda Arosemena de Troitiño as the Vice President.

Editor's Comment: What? According to the newly elected President of Panama's Supreme Court Harley Mitchell, the Ambassador of the United States of America in Panama has neither the "idonidad" (suitability) or "legitimidad" (legitimacy) to question the strength of the judicial system in Panama. On the contrary, sir. Ambassador Eaton is perfectly positioned to call these issues into question. And as to the assertion that these issues should be addressed first and foremost by Panamanians I personally could not agree more.

You are absolutely correct: And what's more Mag. Harley Mitchell is now in a position to do something about it. Ambassador Eaton has been hammering away at the weakness of the Panamanian Judicial system practically since he arrived in country. There is no question as to the accuracy and validity of the context of his statements - he is simply stating in public what most Panamanians are afraid to say out loud and in public. Why should they be afraid? Because judges can put them in prison for a long time. A pissed off judge can also lock their business dealings up in legal proceedings for years and years. The can sequester your material items necessary to run your business or your personal belongings in a legal suit. In short, most Panamanians find it exceptionally difficult, frightening, if not downright terrifying, to question the Panamanian judicial system in such a way as to have their comments and thoughts attributed to them in public. Only politicians who are running for office make these kinds of statements, and when they do they are watered down, weak, and slippery. Politician style.

Why Be Afraid of a Judge: Judges should be respected. They are the official tie-breakers in disputes at all levels. They have the unenviable task of listening to all of your bitching and complaining (from both sides) and then picking a winner and declaring a victory. It's a tough job anywhere. It's even tougher in Panama because judges here are burdened with an antiquated legal system which is, by its very nature, slow, burdensome, bureaucratic, and inefficient. As a simple illustration the entire system runs on paper, and you have to run the stacks of paper from one place to another. Sometimes just taking the case file literally across the street for a prosecutor's signature and getting it back signed can take a month or more.

Too Many Cases, So Little Time: The system is literally gagging on the case load that they already have. In every case there is a winner (happy) and a loser (unhappy.) So, the judges and their administrative staff get to listen to the unhappy people all day long, which means they are generally cranky. Some of these people are still banging away on manual typewriters and carbon paper (no shit.) And when you get thirty feet out of Panama City, your chances of finding a comfortable working environment with simple things air conditioning and a working bathroom are slim. And, even though the system runs on paper you probably will have to drive ten minutes to get to the nearest copy machine. Want to see some pathetic conditions? Go visit every "corregiduria" (Justice of the Peace) in the country. If you're buying land somewhere in the interior you had better bring this person, who makes about $300 per month, a box of chocolates or something.

An Untouchable Ambassador: Lucky for him that the Panamanian justice system can not put the US Ambassador in jail. You can't lock his life up in an endless series of legal battles to suck him dry both emotionally and financially. As a diplomat he is both figuratively and actually beyond the reach of the Panamanian justice system. Therefore he is the perfect position to expose (again) the rampant weaknesses in the Panamanian justice system. The mainstream Panamanian populace should be standing on the tables and applauding this speech. But Elias Castillo, the former President of the National Assembly (who sponsored Pedro Miguel Gonzalez to replace him) said that he could not understand why Eaton's comments were received as if they were the "words of God."

So, Do Something: Don't want to hear it? Then shooting the messenger is not going to change the message. I respectfully suggest that all Panamanians roll up your sleeves and get to work. And of course these issues should be addressed first and foremost by Panamanians. Hey, isn't Judge Harley Mitchell a Panamanian? And as the newly elected President of the Supreme Court he is actually in a position to do something about it. As a matter of fact there is no one in the entire planet who is in a better position to do something about it. So, it's on him as of 2 January 2008.

Let's Agree to Agree: Harley Mitchell said he agrees with the issues raised in Eaton's speech, and this article simply indicates it's irritating to hear the truth from a foreigner. Well, too damn bad. Panama is attracting billions of dollars in foreign direct investment, from both individuals and corporations from around the world. The one really shaky pole in the tent is the issue of Judicial Security - people want to know that if something goes wrong will they be treated fairly by the Panamanian court system? Unfortunately right now the answer is "probably not." If there are millions of dollars involved then you had better be ready to pony up, or at least have friends on the court.

And Speaking of Friends on the Court: Drive out to the causeway, and look to your left as you pass the Figali Center. All of that landfill is there because Jean Figali has Winston Spadafora as a friend on the Supreme Court. And even though everyone in the entire world can see that what Jean Figali is building out there is not a marina, the various elements of the Executive Branch (ANAM, AMP, etc.) have been unable to shut him down because every time a case gets to the Supreme Court Winston Spadafora decides in favor of his buddy Jean Figali. What's more, Figali got that concession in the first place during the administration of Mireya Moscoso. Do you think anyone can effectively investigate all of the rampant corruption that occurred between 1999 - 2004? Of course not, because when Panama's Anti-Corruption Prosecutor Maribel Cornejo tried, the Supreme Court charged her with criminally overstepping her bounds as a prosecutor. So, who's left to clean up the court if it refuses to clean up itself.

We All Know What's Going On: There is no doubt in anyone's mind - the weakest link in the Panamanian government is the court system and the Judicial Branch. And the people who really don't want to hear it are exactly those people who need to be "fixed." What's more the current leadership of the Panamanian Judicial system, specifically the current President of the Supreme Court Graciela Dixon, has shown no indication at all of possessing the political will to implement the required changes from within. The Executive Branch is limited in what it can do to effect change, as is the Legislative Branch (Pedro Miguel Gonzalez or not.) Short of a change to the Panamanian Constitution or some kind of a coup d'etat it's left to the Judicial Branch to reform from within.

So, Get Cracking: The entire Panamanian Justice System will soon be headed by Supreme Court Justice Harley Mitchell. Ambassador Eaton, being a diplomat and all, has to speak very diplomatically and the text of his speech was very carefully worded in an attempt to get the message across without ruffling any feathers. Lucky for me, I'm no diplomat. The Panamanian Judicial Branch really (and I mean really) needs to GET OFF OF IT'S ASS and start to do something about the rampant corruption which is eating this country alive from the inside out. Just accept that it's there, and start to throw lower level judges and local corrupt officials in jail left and right. Stop trying to protect them. Call upon the National Assembly to pass tougher anti-corruption legislation. Ask for more funding, and rather than complaining about criticism from foreign diplomats it would be much more productive to say "yup, you're right. What can you do to help us?" The US would throw money and resources at the problem in big, fat buckets if they thought it would do any good. The key words in Eaton's speech were "political will." You got to want it, first.

That Whole "Talk" and "Walk" Thing: Did Harley Mitchell get elected on a "zero corruption" platform? Nah. But if he wants to go down in the Panamanian history books then he can take this bull by the horns and start to shake things up right now. Stop looking for confrontations with the Public Ministry and Ana Matilde Gomez because she is at least trying to do something. Work together (all you Panamanians) to make some real and lasting changes. In short, less talk and more walk, please. And by the way, investors around the world should be Thanking God that Harley is taking over because he's clearly the best choice. Now you can either get busy, or be prepared to hear the same speech over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over... You're not fooling anyone. Basically, stop whining about some dumb speech and get your shit together.


Mitchell critica a embajador de EU

El presidente electo de la Corte dijo que William Eaton no es idóneo para cuestionar la justicia panameña.

LA PRENSA/V. Arosemena

PIQUETE. Mientras elegían a Mitchell, afuera protestaban por el tema de la basura.928505

José Otero

Harley Mitchell, en sus primeras declaraciones como presidente de la Corte Suprema de Justicia, cuestionó al embajador de Estados Unidos, William Eaton, por sus críticas a la justicia panameña.

Mitchell, quien fue elegido ayer con seis votos a favor y tres abstenciones, dijo que Eaton "no tenía ni idoneidad ni legitimidad" para hacer esos cuestionamientos. Indicó que aunque comparte, en parte, las afirmaciones del diplomático, este no es la persona apropiada para hacer las críticas, sino los panameños.

Eaton dijo el pasado 15 de octubre que "cuando los inversionistas extranjeros son víctimas de procesos judiciales poco claros, la imagen del país se afecta".

La nueva directiva de la Corte, presidida por Mitchel y en la que Esmeralda Arosemena de Troitiño es vicepresidenta, asume el 2 de enero de 2008.

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