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Thursday, July 31 2014 @ 07:26 AM EDT

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Executive Will Appoint Three New Supreme Court Judges For Fifth Chamber

Law & LawyersDespite the rejection of the bill that will define the role and functions of the new Fifth Chamber of the Supreme Court, which even led to clashes and fistfights yesterday in the National Assembly, president Ricardo Martinelli announced he will appoint the three new judges to fill the seats on the Supreme Court. Through a press release, the president said in response to the statements made by Chief Justice Alejandro Moncada Luna, he would follow the instructions contained in the Supreme Court ruling that was handed down in January 2011, which created the Chamber of Instructions and Guarantees, and he would proceed with the designation of the new judges. Yesterday the President of the Court blamed the Executive and Legislative branches for the anxiety being experienced in the country as a result of the bill being discussed in the National Assembly which would regulate the operation of the Fifth Chamber. Moncada Luna said the responsibility of the Executive comes from the fact that the president should have appointed the three new judges who will sit in the Fifth Chamber a long time ago, after the Supreme Court's decision in January 2011. Moncada Luna also said it is not the job of the National Assembly to restructure the judiciary. He added that any law passed by the National Assembly could very well be subject to a claim of unconstitutionality, and it will be up to the Supreme Court to decide. Moncada Luna's statements came during a ceremony to deliver the draft of the of the constitutional reforms undertaken by the Council of Notables, to the President of the Republic, Ricardo Martinelli.

Disturbances - While Moncada Luna issued his accusations against the Executive and Legislative branches of the Panamanian government, at the National Assembly militants (political activists) from the different political parties and members of the "civil society" shouted slogans for and against the bill about the Fifth Chamber, ending in scuffles, blows, and insults. The clashes between the various sectors caused the debates on the bill to be suspended until today, Tuesday, 31 January 2012.

Report - When he learned of the arguments issued by the coordinator of the notables, Rolando Murgas Torraza, the president said he does not agree with the creation of a "constitutional court" because of the negative experience this kind of initiative has had in other countries. Martinelli justified his views by stating "it has been inoperative for some countries, and can make all the projects being done by the government, or all of the bills passed by the National Assembly, subject to a demand of constitutionally in the new court." Martinelli also spoke about the issue of presidential reelection, and he asked to eliminate the possibility of reelection for all those who have occupied the position of President and Vice President of the Republic.

Reactions - In response to Martinelli's opposition to the creation of a "constitutional court," the former Supreme Court Magistrate and member of the Council of Notables Esmeralda de Troitiño first explained that the president was wrong when he said it would be constitutional court. The former judge said she does not share the president's position, because this institution would make a real change in the judicial system. Troitiño explained this new institution would serve only the protection of fundamental rights in the system of guarantees, preventing it from staying in the hands of three people. The new entity also would address the control of constitutionality.

Another who also disagreed with the president's remarks was Rolando Murgas Torraza, who said that the Notables believe and advocate for a constitutional court.

Meanwhile, Edgardo Molino Mola, a former Supreme Court judge, said if there were a debate explaining the advantages and disadvantages of both the Fifth Chamber and the Constitutional Court, the president would change his point of view.

Proposals - In addition to the creation of a Constitutional Court, the initiative, which contains 590 articles, includes the creation of the Water Authority, and prohibits the death penalty. The proposal includes raising the constitutional recognition of the payments being made to Senior citizens (the $100 for 70 program) as well as the thirteenth month payments, the privilege of parenthood, annulment of discriminatory dismissal, and tripartite participation in the labor relations system. It proposes the creation of economic aid to ensure free education, law, and sports promotion, access to medicines, and non-contributory pensions for the elderly, among others. These initiatives will be reviewed by the Executive, and then turn to its analysis in the Assembly. (Panama America)

Editor's Comment: Hmm. Martinelli is smart. I suspect he knew eventually the alliance between the CD and Panameñistas would fracture. If he had made the three Supreme Court appointments back in January 2011, then at least one of those guys would have been a Panamñista. Now, all three will be CD. The 590 articles contained in the report written by the "Notables" is for a change to the Constitution. The finalization of this report is the first step of the process. Now Martinelli will make his changes and forward it to the National Assembly. There, it will be debated and adopted. Then (I think) it goes to a National Referendum (vote). And then the implementation is delayed. It's a long process. Anyway - I still expect that Martinelli will announce his three new Supreme Court justices today.

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"The Court's Statement Was Planned" - Varela

Law & LawyersThe Vice President of Panama, who is also the President of the opposition Panameñista political party, Juan Carlos Varela, said yesterday president Ricardo Martinelli "mocks the country" because of the announcement made by the President of the Supreme Court, Alejandro Moncada Luna, who said Martinelli could legally appoint the three new Supreme Court justices who will occupy the controversial "Fifth Chamber," without having to wait for the National Assembly to pass the law they are currently debating on the subject. Varela said Moncada Luna's statement have been "planned since last Friday." Varela referred to a press release from the Executive that announced they would proceed with the appointment of the three new judges for the Fifth Chamber, to obey the instructions of the President of the Supreme Court, in order to ensure compliance with the court's decision of 25 January 2011 which declared Law 49 of 1999 unconstitutional, which repealed the Fifth Chamber.

The press release from the Executive came after mobs of people led by members of the ruling Democratic Change (CD) political party staged confrontations with people from other groups and political parties in the gallery of the National Assembly, all who were there to observe the proceedings and debates about the Fifth Chamber. According to Varela, before Martinelli left for Davos, Switzerland, on January 24th to attend the World Economic Forum summit, he met with the National Assembly caucus of his Democratic Change political party, and he warned them that he wanted the law about the Fifth Chamber passed before he returned last weekend. Otherwise, he would not support them with more funds, and he would appoint the judges of the Fifth Chamber.

La Prensa sought a reaction from the Executive on Varela's version of events, but there was no answer. National Assembly Deputy and the former leader of the CD caucus Fernando Carrillo denied Varela's version, saying they were not threatened by Martinelli. He also denied there is disobedience in the caucus.

But CD Deputies Luis Corvillón and Ronny Araúz, and the Panameñista Deputy Miguel Fanovich, who support the Fifth Chamber, were absent from the debate. Those who reject the Fifth Chamber argue it will allow Martinelli to appoint eight of the twelve judges in the Supreme Court, a first for the country. The opposition interpreted this as an action seeking reelection. Assertions that the president has repeatedly rejected. (Prensa)

Editor's Comment: Today there will be a meeting of the Executive Cabinet Council. I expect they will select and appoint the three new Supreme Court justices for the Fifth Chamber at the meeting. The opposition lawmakers are most afraid because with eight judges in his back pocket Martinelli will have a two-thirds majority, number required to convict a Deputy in the National Assembly of corruption, graft, embezzlement, or some other crime or wrongdoing. And if the CD wins in 2014? Make that 12 out of 12. Guys like Blandon and every corrupt lawmaker in Panama are shitting in their pants, and ready to burn down the house to keep this from happening. But it's going to happen anyway. And, they won't like it. But the girl in the pink lingerie likes it - and she knows its the last day of the month, so you should forward this article to all of your friends, in a blatant attempt to boost this month's traffic stats. Yeah, sure politics, whatever ... "hey, hooters!" ... I think she would make a great Supreme Court Judge. Like, I don't know my audience (grin).

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Henriquez Calls The Fifth Chamber A "Long Overdue Necessity"

Law & LawyersThe Foreign Minister of Panama, Roberto Henriquez, on Friday defended Bill 402, which reactivates the Fifth Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice claiming that legally "it is a long overdue necessity." "Why is it that those who originally proposed the Fifth Chamber during the administration of Perez Balladares, those who defended it every time while they were in power, now oppose it?" he asked. The caucus of the ruling Democratic Change (CD) is trying to approve the bill in the second debate, but opposition lawmakers are preventing its passage with delaying tactics. Chancellor Henriquez, who is also the Vice President of the CD party, said precisely because there is no chamber in the Supreme Court dedicated to constitutional issues, these cases pile up and decisions are delayed. The opposition Panameñista party has denounced that President Ricardo Martinelli intends to open the way for this reelection with the Fifth Chamber, and he lied in 2007 when he said he was against the establishment of the Fifth Chamber in the Supreme Court. The Foreign Minister believes the opposition to the Fifth Chamber "is purely political." (Estrella)

Editor's Comment: Sure, no doubt it's political. This fight is all about political power. The government politicians argue that the Fifth Chamber is needed in order to address mounting court cases about issues and challenges regarding constitutionality. However in reality this is more about giving Ricardo Martinelli the opportunity to appoint three more justices to the Supreme Court. Once that's done, then he will have total control over the entire government. And for example the Supreme Court will be appointing the replacement for Solis on the Electoral Tribunal later this year, so there's one more element of power and control. Expanding his grasp over every element of Panamanian politics has been the one consistent guiding light of the Martinelli administration. If they want it, they got it. Just look at the track record - they now control the National Assembly, the Public Ministry (fired Ana Matilde Gomez, hired a new Attorney General), the Comptroller General (Martinelli's former accountant), the resignation of Bosco Vallarino as the Mayor of Panama City who was replaced by the CD's Roxana Mendez, and the list goes on. By the end of his term Martinelli will have appointed eight of twelve Supreme Court justices - and those guys will serve for ten years. That's gotta be a record. So yeah, the opposition is political, because the move is about securing more political power. A simple fact of life. And of course the PRD and the Panameñistas are going to object. What, you expect them to support and applaud?

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"Martinelli Seeks To Guarantee His Immunity" - Blandon

Law & LawyersThe National Assembly Deputy from the Panameñista political party Jose Isabel Blandon said with the creation of the Fifth Chamber, the President seeks to ensure immunity, because during his term in office he will have appointed eight of the twelve sitting justices on the Supreme Court. Blandon warned the passage of this bill would open the way for Martinelli's re-election, saying the same thing might happen here as what happened in Nicaragua with President Daniel Ortega. He said the Panamanian people reject the Fifth Chamber, because they want to preserve the democracy, for which they fought. Meanwhile the National Assembly Deputy from the Democratic Change political party Gabriel Mendez said the bill that seeks to establish the Fifth Chamber is subject to change, because it seeks to impose something that benefits the country. (TVN)
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National Assembly Discussing Law To Activate New "Fifth Chamber" of the Supreme Court

Law & LawyersThe National Assembly remained in session until 3:35 am early Friday morning, 27 January 2012, discussing Bill No. 402, which will provide the legal basis for the new Fifth Chamber of the Supreme Court. The Deputy and Second Vice President of the Assembly, Rony Arauz, who chaired the debate, agreed to finish the session at that time, so that later no one could say the law had been approved "in the middle of the night." So, it is expected the lawmakers will resume the debate at 11:00 am on Friday morning, with the vote on the minority reports in relation to the Fifth Chamber, presented by the deputies of the opposition Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) and the Panameñistas.

In the marathon session, which began in the afternoon yesterday, Thursday, opposition deputies sustained their reporting on Bill 402. In addition, they called for the project to be returned to committee, after claiming the Government Commission approved the initiative "surprisingly," which had been presented by Deputy Hernan Delgado, without the participation of civil society and opposition lawmakers.

For its part, the caucus of the ruling Democratic Change party claimed opposition lawmakers were causing the extension session by introducing bills in the middle of the discussion to delay the process. (Prensa)

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New Law Would Update Rules For Sterilization Of Men and Women

Law & Lawyers After a year and a half of waiting, the bill to establish female and male sterilization was approved yesterday in the first debate by the Committee of Women's Affairs of the National Assembly. The approval of the project was attended by five of the nine members of the commission, which had not met for several weeks due to the absence of the deputies. Crispiano Adames, of the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD), said the proposal seeks to eliminate the current legislation on the subject, which dates from 1941, which he considers to be discriminatory, and in violation of human rights because it prevents women from taking responsibility (for the decision), and it violates the sovereign decision of how many to conceive.

The current law states that in order for a woman to be sterilized, she must be at least 33 years of age, have had at least five live births, and in addition she requires her husband's approval. The most recent regulation of this old law issued by the Ministry of Health lowered the age to 28 years and the number of children to two.

The new bill clarifies that sterilization is a personal right, and is voluntary on the part of the woman, although it does not specify the age at which to apply sterilization, only that the woman be an adult (18). At this point, Adames proposed the age should be 21 and the woman must have had at least two children, but said he was open to other suggestions of experts.

The bill also contemplates male sterilization with the consent and information on the risks of a surgical procedure and the consequences of a vasectomy.

The document stipulates that in order to proceed with the sterilization, the woman must present a voluntary petition and medical recommendation, as well as a test to prove she is not pregnant. The procedure will be stopped if the woman expresses before the end of medical intervention that she was not presented with information about alternative methods of contraception.

The commissioners also approved bill 305, which ensures the health and education of pregnant adolescents. This document creates lactation rooms in schools where teenage mothers can attend to their children, in order not to interrupt their education, and to encourage measures to reduce the number of teenage pregnancies and abortions. It also encourages the attendance of minors to planning consultations. (Panama America)

Editor's Comment: Holy Last Century, Bat Girl. Five live births and the consent of the husband required to get your tubes tied? Well, yeah, that's from 71 years ago. Now, get 'chur cute little barefoot fanny back into that kitchen, and keep squeezin' out those pups...

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Panama Must Return To Parlacen After Supreme Court's Decision

Law & LawyersIn a unanimous ruling, the Supreme Court yesterday declared unconstitutional Law 78 of December 11, 2009, which sealed Panama's withdrawal from the Central American Parliament (Parlacen), a forum in which the president, Ricardo Martinelli, who pushed for this law, will now have a seat as of 2014. The Chief Justice, Alejandro Moncada Luna, made the announcement at 1:00 pm yesterday afternoon, about three hours after the start of a special session of the Supreme Court. The ruling was written by judge Harry Díaz -the President of the Criminal Chamber - who was appointed by Martinelli in 2011 to replace Judge Jose Abel Almengor, who resigned. Presidential spokesman Luis Eduardo Camacho acknowledged yesterday that the Government has no other choice but to obey the decision. The President, who called the Parlacen a "den of impunity", has not made a statement on the issue because he is traveling in Switzerland.

For his part, lawyer Julio Berrio, promoter of the three lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of Law 78, said the ruling was in strict accordance with the law, and it corrected a clear violation of the Constitution and the 1969 Vienna Convention, to which Panama is signatory.

The Resolution That Enabled Bosco Vallarino Declared Unconstitutional: During the same session yesterday the Supreme Court declared as unconstitutional the retroactive effect of Resolution No. 2 of the National Assembly, from July 3, 2009, which returned citizenship rights to Bosco Ricardo Vallarino. In the ruling, written by judge Hernán De Leon, declared unconstitutional the phrase "after 2000" contained in the resolution, because it violated Article 46 of the Constitution. No further details were provided about the unanimous decision. (Prensa)

Editor's Comment: In the Panamanian Supreme Court the decisions are written by one of the nine judges - called the "potente" - who is responsible for doing the research, analyzing the case, defining the appropriate law, etc. This person writes up the draft, which is then coordinated around among the rest of the judges. As soon as there is a majority in agreement with the draft, then there's a decision. The dissenters can write their opinion if they wish, but it won't change the outcome. Apparently both of these decisions were unanimous. I thought the Parlacen decision was interesting because I was convinced Martinelli wanted Panama out. Maybe he's since decided that ten years of immunity from prosecution isn't such a bad thing, after all?

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"Do I Have To Pay Social Security For A Part-Time Gardener?"

Law & Lawyers By DON WINNER for Panama-Guide.com - Received today via email: "Hello Mr. Winters. Read your Panama Guide constantly and truly enjoy it. Could you please clear up something for me and possibly others? We live in the Bejuco area and have heard that if our gardener (2 days/week) works a total of 14 hours or more we must sign him up for social security and pay his ss premiums. Is this true? We had a full time gardener (on ss.) until he quit and now wonder about the new law and the part-timer. What is our responsibility under these new laws? They seem so confusing to us. Keep up the good work with the paper. It is truly the best way for us to know what's happening in the country. J&LM"

Editor's Comment: First of all, it's "Winner", not "Winters". I have no idea why that switch occurs in people's minds, but it's been happening my entire life. Anyway, one of the things you will be needing if you live in Panama as a resident is a lawyer, on retainer. Now normally I would say you don't need a lawyer for this kind of stuff, but if you're Spanish language skills are not up to snuff then you might miss something, do something wrong, and it might co$t you later on down the road. The next biggest mistake you can make is to conduct the business aspects of your life, like hiring employees, based on information provided by knuckleheads like me. I can tell you what I know from my own personal experience, but the laws change constantly.

It Can Be Tricky: In Panama the game of hiring either full or part time help can be very tricky. The employees tend to become "legal beagles" and they know every trick in the book when it comes to $ucking money out of a former employer. Every employee - employer relationship starts in Panama with good feelings and hugs and kisses and kum-friggin'-bye-ya. They tent to end with disappointment, loud voices, the occasional machete, and an argument at the Ministry of Labor over exactly who owes what and why. These fights over termination are always won by the person with the best documentation. I suggest you have your lawyer draw up a standard employment contract. You can have check boxes for "full time" or "part time." You can have a fill-in-the-block section for hours to be worked or schedule. You can have a complete and detailed section outlining requirements and expectations for termination, and of course whatever you put in your employment contract has to concur and comply with Panamanian law. These kinds of employment contracts are "boiler plate." If your lawyer can't whip one up in thirty seconds or less, move on to a new lawyer.

Once Employment Starts: The employee - employer relationship starts once the contract is signed and the new employee shows up for the first day of work. Now you need to track and document every hour worked. Keep a detailed notebook of hours worked, when the person showed up, how many hours they worked, including date and time, what they did, etc. Have the employee initial off each entry as a matter of course. Keep your book and the copy of the contract in a safe place (lock and key) where a maid, for example, who is considering leaving can't rip it off at the last minute to destroy your documentation. You can use this same book to document any additional payments, bonuses, gifts, or whatever. These kinds of things won't have any bearing on the end result, beyond proving that you were a "nice guy" who took care of your employee.

It's About The Money, Honey: Also do not pay the person in cash. Use some kind of a method to create documentation - like cancelled checks - for every dime you've paid. If you have all of these things, the contract, the notebook of hours worked, and the documentation of money already paid, then when it comes time for you to part ways, you most likely won't have to pay one red cent more than what you are legally required to pay. Meaning, it won't come down to "he said, she said." Your former employee will drag you into the Ministry of Labor and lie through their friggin' teeth to screw you out of a $100 bucks or whatever. Anyway, the bottom line is to pay what you have to pay. Now, as far as the question about the Social Security payments...

Susan, Are You Listening? Apart from being a dipped in stardust Obama loving democrat (grin), Susan Guberman-Garcia knows a whole lot about these kinds of issues. She runs an excellent Yahoo! email group called Panama Laws for Expats which you might want to consider joining. There are currently about 2,180 members and many of them are Panamanian lawyers. Your question is tailor made for that group. I suspect that Susan - who owns and operates a Bed & Breakfast in Bocas del Toro, already knows the answer off of the top of her head, and hopefully she (or someone else) will respond with the correct and current answer to your specific question in the comments section below. Best of luck with your future gardener, and your efforts to keep the encroaching jungle at bay.

Copyright 2012 by Don Winner for Panama-Guide.com. Go ahead and use whatever you like as long as you credit the source. Salud.

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Government Committee Crams "Fifth Chamber" Bill Through First Reading

Law & LawyersThe Government Commission of the National Assembly approved on first reading the draft of the law regarding the "Fifth Chamber" of the Supreme Court, and the Deputies in the National Assembly from the Panameñista party don't like the way it was done. Vice President Juan Carlos Varela added his voice to the criticism, saying it was one more attempt against democracy. While speaking on RPC Radio, Varela said the way the bill was approved in the first debate was disrespectful to the Panamanian people. He said it was a further demonstration of the interest by the Executive to name three new judges to the Supreme Court in order to take control of the judicial system. (Telemetro)

Editor's Comment: In Panama "projects" or bills are approved at the committee level in what is called the "first debate." Once it's out of committee, the bill goes to the full body of the National Assembly for two more votes, known as the second and third debate. Once approved in the third debate then it goes to the president for signature. In the case of this bill that would define the roles and functions of the newly created "Fifth Chamber" of the Supreme Court, the Government Committee - controlled by the Cambio Democratico party of Ricardo Martinelli - approved the bill last night without even having the committee members from the Panameñista party in the room. They held a meeting and a vote, and all of the Committee members from the CD voted in favor, as well as one from the PRD political party. Legally speaking, they had a quorum, and what they did was not illegal. However it was nothing short of a tremendous "fuck you" to the Panameñista party - and it prevented them from holding up the proceedings. Now the bill goes to the full body of the National Assembly, where it will quickly be passed in the second and third debates. Martinelli will then announce his appointees (three new judges) which brings the total number of Supreme Court judges to twelve. Martinelli will be able to do whatever he wants in the judicial system.

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Conflicts Between Buyers and Developers in Panama

Law & LawyersOver the last few years the increase in the construction industry in Panama has made dealing with developers a delicate matter. In almost every instance developers write very one sided contracts that are very beneficial to them, but maybe not so much for the buyers. When there are problems or when construction projects get delayed some developers can be very difficult to deal with, especially for foreign buyers. With all the turmoil in the markets the last few years, conflicts between the developers and buyers have become even more frequent. Delays in construction, changes in building specifications, projects that don’t get off the ground, and failure of payment by buyers are some or the most common situations.

If you find yourself in a situation where you feel your investment is in jeopardy, you should know you have options, even if the non compliance is in part attributable to you. It might be possible to get all or part of your money back. However it is very important that you take action before the developer obtains the occupancy permit for the building. It has been our experience with developers in almost all cases they are hesitant to return deposits and/or damages to buyers, even if the incompliance is clear on their part, so some sort of legal action usually needs to be taken to pressure them to comply and to secure your investment. Once legal action has been taken they seem much more willing to negotiate.

We at Panama Relocation Attorneys specialize in the legal aspects of real estate transactions and now through our litigation department we can not only advise our clients but also present proper legal action if need be to protect their rights. If you or someone you know finds themselves in a situation in which a considerable down payment has been made for a property and there are problems with the developer, we are willing to look at your case free of cost to determine if in our opinion you have a case or not. To take advantage of this offer please contact us a info@prapanama.com and mention that you saw this article in Panama Guide.

Kind regards, Lic. Gonzalo de la Guardia

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President of Supreme Court Warns Against Speculating on Vallarino Decision

Law & Lawyers The President of the Supreme Court, Alejandro Moncada Luna, said this Monday, January 16, he could not make "guesses" on decisions that are unique to this organ of state. Moncada Luna referred specifically to the claim of unconstitutionality filed against the resolution passed by the National Assembly that returned the civil rights to the former Mayor of Panama City Bosco Vallarino. He said in the news media articles have been published about this case indicating they (the Supreme Court) will collate copies to the Public Ministry to open a criminal process against Vallarino. This is incorrect, he said. "You can not speculate on projects that are specific to the Court, and even less if the full body of the Court has not yet made its decision," he said. And, according to the presiding judge of the Court, the decision on Vallarino's case will be taken on 24 January 2012, as announced.

There were three complaints of unconstitutionality made against the decision to return Vallarino's civil rights; one by Armando Aguilar, one by Miguel Antonio Bernal in representation of Mario Castillo, and the third by the lawyer Saks Roberto Calvera Oro. The first two were filed in 2010 and the last in 2011. All three were joined into one single file. (Prensa)

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Moncada Luna - New President of the Supreme Court

Law & LawyersAlejandro Moncada Luna is now the new President of the Supreme Court, replacing Aníbal Salas. Mocada Luna, who was appointed to the Supreme Court by president Ricardo Martinelli, was sworn in by Salas in the offices of the Presidency of the Court. In his speech, Moncada Luna said the Magistrates will have a fixed period of 10 years, and that after that time an assessment will be made, and if it is positive they will be given another ten years. (WTF?) He said they cannot continue to allow corruption in the judiciary. He said the judges will have a definite time to work, discuss and sign the resolution of a case, and he said no cases will be shelved. The Board of Directors of the Supreme Court will also have two Vice Presidents and a Secretary.

Earlier, the new judges of the Supreme Court of the First Civil Chamber and the Third Division of Administrative Litigation, Hernan Batista Antonio De Leon Sanchez and Luis Ramon Fabrega, respectively, took office today in a ceremony place in the Yellow Room of the Palace of the Herons. (TVN)

Editor's Comment: OK, Salas did the swearing in ceremony and now Moncada Luna is the new President of the Supreme Court. But where the hell did he come up with that thing about how Supreme Court justices will serve ten years, and then if they do a good job then they will have another ten years? What, he thinks he can change the constitution with a speech? No mention made in the article that Moncada Luna was simply making a suggestion or anything like that. No matter - all Supreme Court justices, including him, serve ten years on the bench and then they are replaced. And does Moncada Luna really think any sitting president will give up the power to name new Supreme Court justices to sit on the bench? Am I missing something? Is this an issue that's being discussed as a possible change to the constitution?

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Two New Supreme Court Justices Sworn In

Law & LawyersAt a ceremony held in the Yellow Room of the Palace of the Herons the new justices of the Supreme Court were sworn in. Hernán Antonio De León Batista will serve in the First Civil Chamber and Luis Ramón Fábrega Sánchez will serve in the Third Chamber of Administrative Litigation. This was announced by the Secretary of State, through a press release on Tuesday, 3 Januart 2012. During the ceremony the President of the Republic, Ricardo Martinelli, said the two new judges assume a historic responsibility to contribute to the Panamanian justice system, and he called upon them for these ten years during which they will occupy these positions to be a vibrant force, and to change the justice system in Panama. "You are responsible Panamanians and with good names. I'm sure you will do your work well. I was not mistaken in appointing you, and I know you will work so that justice reaches all, because in this country there should be no one with exemptions or privileges," said Martinelli.

For his part, Supreme Court Justice Fabrega said his designation represents a big challenge on his shoulders, and the (justice) system has made some advancements, but there is much to do, and he hopes the hopes the public can learn about their work and their contribution to society.

Meanwhile, Judge De Leon said he returns to the justice system with a commitment to transparency and honesty and, as president Martinelli said, justice must be equal for all, and he will carry out his work based on this principle.

The Judge of the Third Division of Administrative Litigation, Luis Fabrega has a Juris Doctor degree from the Universidad Complutense de Madrid, he studied at Harvard, and his last position was as the President of the International Maritime University of Panama. The judge of the First Civil Chamber, Hernán De Leon holds a Ph.D. in law from the Universidad Santa María La Antigua (USMA) and his last position was as a President Magistrate of the Administrative Tax Tribunal. Both judges have teaching experience. The new judges replace Winston Spadafora and Alberto Cigarruista who finished their ten year terms in office. (Estrella)

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Laws Governing Judicial Branch Will Be Reformed

Law & Lawyers"We cannot continue to allow the existence of a widespread perception among the citizens that the judiciary is corrupt," said the new president of the Supreme Court, Alejandro Moncada Luna. During his speech as the new President of the Supreme Court, Moncada Luna said he has submitted a proposal for a bill to the National Assembly that would amend some of the articles of the highest body of justice. He said is these articles they seek to make it so the full body of the Supreme Court can separate any administrator of justice from their position, whoever he is (for acts of corruption). (Panama America)

Editor's Comment: Now two of the old justices that had been appointed by the Panameñista former president Mireya Moscoso are gone, and two more of Ricardo Martinelli's boys from the Cambio Democratico political party have taken their place. This further tightens Martinelli's control over the Supreme Court, and you can expect there to be further actions on old corruption cases that have been pending against his PRD and Panameñista political rivals. Moncada Luna promised there would be a separation of powers between the Judiciary and the Executive branches, and he managed to do it with a straight face.

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Supreme Court Decision Could Result in Bosco Vallarino Being Removed as Mayor of Panama City

Law & LawyersThe decision of the Supreme Court regarding Mayor Ricardo "Bosco" Vallarino could cause his departure from office. The Panameñistas expect the Supreme Court will issue a ruling against the decision of the National Assembly, which returned Panamanian citizenship to Vallarino. (Telemetro)

Editor's Comment: Ricardo "Bosco" Vallarino won the election in May 2009 and has been serving as the Mayor of Panama City. He is from the Panameñista political party, and there have always been differences between him and Ricardo Martinelli. Early on, for example, Martinelli created a new national level office responsibly for garbage collection, and he took the responsibility away from the municipalities, because Bosco simply could not get the job done. When Bosco was elected it became known he had renounced his Panamanian citizenship during the years of the military dictatorship in order to obtain US citizenship. Legally speaking, this made him ineligible to serve as Mayor. One of the very first things the National Assembly did, which was controlled at that time by the Panameñistas, and presided over by the brother of Juan Carlos Varela, was to pass a resolution reinstating Bosco's Panamanian citizenship. Now that the alliance between the Panameñistas and Ricardo Martinelli's Cambio Democratico (CD) party has broken up, there's really no reason for them to allow Bosco Vallarino to remain in office. Martinelli has appointed enough justices to the Supreme Court to control and manipulate practically any ruling. If Bosco is removed from office, then the current Minister of Government Roxana Mendez, who was elected as the Vice Mayor, will step in and take over. The Panameñistas expect this will happen sometime during the first few months of 2012 - after the new Supreme Court justices appointed by Martinelli take over.

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Lawyer Molina Received $5,000 Per Month From The ASEP

Law & LawyersThe General Manager of the National Authority of Public Services (ASEP), Zelmar Rodríguez Crespo, confirmed yesterday the lawyer Jorge Molina Mendoza, who is also a Director of the newspaper La Prensa, received from the institution a monthly payment of $5,000 as part of a contract for legal services. The contract was not renewed after the Supreme Court said in a November 2009 ruling there was negligence in a case in which Molina had to defend the interests of the state, representing the ASEP. The company La Mina Hydro-Power Corp. easily won their case because there was no defense strategy presented by the ASEP, represented by Molina, the court concluded.

In the case the Court ruled in favor of the company and recognized their rights for the concession for a hydroelectric project in Chiriqui, which had been set aside (annulled) in 2006 to be later granted to the company Ideal Panama, owned by the Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim. In its ruling, the Court stated that the ASEP only presented a report of conduct, which they considered to be an abandonment by the lawyer Molina, which in turn caused a significant impairment of the State. Rodriguez confirmed yesterday that after the ruling was handed down the institution cited Molina to give his explanations. "He brought with him a series of documents (which he used to) try to justify his work, but in the end we did not renew his contract," she said.

ASEP is now between a rock and a hard place because the two companies related to the concession can make multi million dollar severance claims against the state. The official pointed out they have already been notified of a claim for $103 million dollars for damages and lost earnings filed by the company InterCarib, represented by Julio Lisac. Rodriguez said the institution is aware that at some point, the State will have to pay compensation for this case. She also said it would have been more appropriate if the Court's decision had also clarified the issue of compensation, but this did not happen.

The decision only opens the door to the company that sued the ASEP to present their claim for damages. Nor did the Court clarify the status of the company that built the hydroelectric project, Ideal Panama. Parallel to the case of claims against the State, the ASEP now is part of the process of reversion of the rights of the concession to Lisac, which is complicated because Ideal Panama had already constructed the hydroelectric project for a cost of $170 million dollars. Rodriguez said they are considering various strategies or solutions to the case, but said for the moment they have left open the option for the various parties to come to an agreement voluntarily. "But so far we have not heard," she said.

The Panama America newspaper again tried to obtain a response from Molina's law firm, but there was no response regarding this case. These offices said Molina was in meetings. (Panama America)

Jorge Molina Mendoza - Part of the Directors of the Newspaper La Prensa, represented the ASEP in a case that was lost due to negligence.

Editor's Comment: Ah, OK. So this is what La Prensa was calling an "attack." And rather than trying to explain himself to the Panama America newspaper, instead Molina decided to use his own media outlet (La Prensa) to call this news article an "attack" against La Prensa. On the face of things it seems the ASEP decided to fire Molina for poor performance in the court case. That's pretty simple to understand. And now that the ASEP has lost this case before the Supreme Court, the three different companies involved can now sue the government for millions of dollars. Right. Poor lawyer. He's being attacked. Jeez... Now scream "freedom of the press" and blame it all on Martinelli. That'll work. So not only are the politicians all on one of the three teams, and the different news media outlets all support one team or the other, now the lawyers also have to wear team colors and get the appropriate tattoos. It's a more complicated political reality out there, and it's getting more and more complicated with each passing day.

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National Assembly Ratifies New Supreme Court Justices

Law & LawyersThe full body of the National Assembly ratified last night the new judges appointment to the Supreme Court - Luis Ramón Fábrega and Hernán De León Batista - with doubts raised by the members of the opposition Panameñista political party about whether or not they will operate and decide cases independently of the Executive Body and President of the Republic, Ricardo Martinelli, who appointed them to office. Despite these concerns, both appointments were given the vote of confidence by the opposition Deputies from both the Panameñista party and the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD). Only Jose Blandon - Panameñista - abstained from voting on the appointment of De Leon.

De Leon, who was the coordinator of the special commission to reform the Constitution, will serve in the First Civil Chamber replacing Alberto Cigarruista, whose term in office expires on 31 December 2011. While Fabrega, the brother of the Vice Minister of the Presidency, Maria Fabrega, will serve in the Third Administrative Division Chamber, replacing Winston Spadafora.

After his ratification, Fabregas pledged to work with honesty and transparency in office. Meanwhile, De Leon "still does not believe" he will actually a magistrate on the Supreme Court, because he does not belong to nor has he ever been a member of a political party. (Prensa)

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Gomez Thinks Jose Ayu Prado Didn't Need To Tag Along On Noriega Transfer

Law & LawyersThe presence of Panama's Attorney General Joseph Ayú Prado was not required during the transfer of the former military dictator Manuel Antonio Noriega from Paris to Panama, saying "rather I think it was a request from the president," said the former Attorney General Ana Matilde Gomez. "Apparently there was executive interference because the Attorney General said the Cabinet had asked him, and everyone knows the Cabinet Council is "Ricardo Martinelli," she said. According to Gomez, Ayu Prado acted badly in going to meet with Noriega in France, a meeting that never took place because Noriega refused, suggesting that he knows his rights better than anyone else. Noriega was right in refusing to meet with the Attorney General or allowing himself to be exposed to the media, said Gomez on TVN.

The presence of the Attorney General also meant he accompanied Noriega to the El Renacer prison, where Noriega has been detained since Sunday, 11 December 2011. But the role of custodian did not fall to Ayu Prado, said Gomez. Gomez also criticized the way the authorities handled Noriega's transfer. She said there was a lot of improvisation in the process, including the tweet sent by president Ricardo Martinelli, when he ordered the Minister of Government Roxana Mendez to haul Noriega out so he could be photographed and video taped by the media. Moreover, the judiciary has not done anything wrong in this case because when Noriega was taken to jail there was no judge present, she said. (Estrella)

Former Attorney General Ana Matilde Gomez

Editor's Comment: First of all, Ana Matilde Gomez was hired by former president Martin Torrijos to be the Attorney General. She's 100% PRD. And, Ricardo Martinelli basically got her fired so he could put his guy (Ayu Prado) in the job. Ana Matilde Gomez has now become another "perennial ankle biter" who always will have a bitch or a complaint against whatever the government does. And also notice in this article there's not even a hint of trying to get an opposing opinion or the other side of the story. Personally I thought Ayu Prado made the right call in tagging along. Did he have any direct responsibility? No. However as the Attorney General he is directly responsible for handling all of the current cases pending against Noriega, and he probably wanted to make sure no one screwed those up. It was Ayu Prado who basically said a firm "No" when pressure was mounting to haul Noriega out in front of the cameras. And Ayu Prado also explained that while there might already be several convictions for murder against Noriega, there are many more cases pending against him, and his rights in those cases don't change just because the other convictions exist. So, I think he played it right. Finally, who cares what Ana Matilde Gomez thinks anymore, anyway?

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Cabinet Council Selects Two New Supreme Court Justices

Law & LawyersBy DON WINNER for Panama-Guide.com - This afternoon, Tuesday, 29 November 2011, the Cabinet Council selected two lawyers to be the new Supreme Court justices - Hernán Antonio De León and Luis Ramón Fábrega. This is the first official release of the names, I'm sure there will be more coming out soon.

Copyright 2011 by Don Winner for Panama-Guide.com. Go ahead and use whatever you like as long as you credit the source. Salud.

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Waiting For Commentary On The Judges

Law & LawyersThe Secretary of Legal Affairs of the Ministry of the Presidency Ana Belfon said to date they have not received any suggestions, recommendations, or objections to the list of applicants for the post of judge of the Supreme Court. Although since last September, the Secretariat of the Cabinet Council opened the bar to receive suggestions from civil society, "we have not yet received any documents," said Belfon. However, the Citizens Alliance for Justice urged the Executive to disclose as soon as possible the names of the two lawyers who will be appointed to these positions, replacing Alberto Cigarruista and Winston Spadafora, who concluded their terms on 31 December 2011. According to this group, the government intends to make the announcement during the holidays this year, when there is little public attention on these issues. "There is no list of two people. We complied with a transparent procedure and this does not prevent members of civil society and want to opine, advise or to object to a particular applicant for a magistrate of the Court, but so far the office of the Cabinet Secretariat has not received anything," reiterated Belfon. (Prensa)

Editor's Comment: Reportedly president Martinelli has already picked his two primary nominees to replace the vacating justices on the Supreme Court. The members of this group of "civil society" ankle biters don't like the fact that Martinelli has not made his decision public yet. The fact of the matter is that there has been a much longer list of all of the nominees available since September, and the Ministry of the Presidency rightfully points out that the "civil society" has had all the time in the world to review or make complaints, observations, or suggestions about any of them. But, they have not. In short, they want Martinelli to make it easier for them to focus their attention on just the two names he has picked. And of course Belfon is, in fact, lying. Martinelli said in an earlier Tweet that he's made his picks. Maybe it's not on a list somewhere, but it's in Martinelli's brain. Whatever. More political games.

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Jean Figali Acquitted Of All Charges

Law & LawyersThe businessman Jean Figali, indicted for money laundering from drug trafficking and forgery of public documents, was acquitted of the charges against him, by order of the Twelfth Criminal Court, which ruled in in his favor a temporary stay. In its ruling of November 21, 2011, Judge Marlene Morais said the Organized Crime Prosecutor failed to prove the commission of a crime by Figali nor for the alleged crime of drug trafficking. Figali was given the precautionary measure of not being allowed to leave the country after he spent ten months in prison for these charges. (Prensa)
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American Citizen Isaac Polanco Makes Complaints From Puerto Rico

Law & Lawyers#Panama - An American citizen, Isaac Polanco, who was allegedly linked to the attempted kidnapping of President Ricardo Martinelli in January 2010 said he suffered various abuses of his human rights, and among those responsible he mentioned the former director of the Direction of Judicial Investigation (DIJ) Javier Carrillo. In response, Carrillo, who now heads the National Migration Service, said that is totally false and it is an infamy from this person who committed several crimes during his stay in Panama. According to Carrilllo, this is American citizen is taking advantage of the fact that he is in Puerto Rico to tarnish the reputations of several people. (Telemetro)

Editor's Comment: OK, so Polanco pulled the trigger. I've spoken to him on several occasions. He called me using a cell phone when he was detained in La Joya, and then after he was deported he called me a couple of times from Puerto Rico. As a matter of fact he sent me the photo above on 3 October 2011, so we've been in contact relatively recently.

Here's what happened: Isaac Polanco got paid by the government of Panama for providing information on other criminal elements here in Panama - he was an informant. He developed a degree of credibility because on a couple of the occasions the information he provided was correct and accurate, and it resulted in arrests of others who had committed crimes, and specifically he helped to solve one important kidnapping case. With regards to the whole supposed kidnapping plot against president Ricardo Martinelli, from what I understand that was something Polanco himself basically invented. He convinced the two SPI guys that were involved to start planning. Then, he turned around and tried to sell the information to the Panamanian authorities. When the busts when down, he was arrested as well.

A Year In Prison: Isaac Polanco spent about a year in prison. During that entire time his case was being investigated by José Ayú Prado, who at the time was the Special Prosecutor for Organized Crime. The case of the alleged or supposed kidnapping plot was assigned to him. It's important to note that José Ayú Prado is now the Attorney General of Panama. Isaac Polanco told me he was taken to be questioned or interrogated on several occasions in the office of José Ayú Prado, but during those interviews Ayú Prado didn't ask him very much about the supposed kidnapping plot. Rather, he spent all of his time asking Polanco about other criminal figures and networks. Apparently the Panamanian authorities had figured out relatively quickly that the kidnapping thing was bullshit, but Ayú Prado wanted to take advantage of the fact that Issac Polanco was detained and being held in prison awaiting trial, to attempt to extract as much actionable intelligence from him as possible, before he was released.

Physical Attacks and Abuse: When we spoke on the phone Isaac Polanco never told me that Ricardo Martinelli kicked him in the stomach personally - I would have remembered something like that. In his interview on Telemetro today he also mentioned the names of Javier Carrillo and Manuel Moreno. That would make sense because at the time Javier Carrillo was the Chief of the DIJ, and Issac Polanco was initially detained in the holding cells of the DIJ when the case was initially being investigated, and this is common practice. He also mentioned the name of Manuel Moreno, who at the time was the Chief of the Homicide Division within the DIJ - I worked with Moreno on the murder investigation of Daniel Moreno (no relation to Manuel Moreno) who has been arrested and charged in the murder of the American citizen Denise Mullen Hiller. Since the time that Issac Polanco was arrested, Manuel Moreno has since been promoted and he is now the Chief of the DIJ, and Javier Carrillo has also been promoted and he is now the Director of the National Immigration Service. So, all of the primaries involved have been promoted. And about the abuse in prison, Isaac Polanco told me he got beat up in prison on several occasions, and that his life had been threatened. He was hospitalized with a broken jaw - facts he repeated again today.

Fear Of Reprisals: When I spoke to Isaac Polanco he said he was concerned for the welfare of his wife and family - he's married to a Panamanian and has Panamanian children.

Cleared Of All Charges: A judge in San Miguelito issued a "provisional acquittal" in favor of Polanco and ordered his release. However he was not release, but rather he was handed over to the Immigration authorities and deported.

Interesting Twist On His Deportation: Isaac Polanco sent me a copy of the documentation used to deport him. Apparently, the Immigration authorities issued a letter (I have a copy) saying Issac Polanco had just arrived in Panama on 9 December 2010 at the Tocumen International Airport on an American Airlines flight from Puerto Rico. Of course this was impossible, because on the date specified in the letter, Issac Polanco was in fact an inmate in the La Joya prison. The same letter says the Immigration officials had declared him as a person who was "inadmissible" to the country because he did not have a passport or he had lost his travel documents. And that was also a lie, because in fact the Immigration authorities had confiscated his passport, and a copy of the passport was in fact attached to the letter. Based on this document, Immigration ordered the deportation of Polanco on 11 December 2010 aboard Copa flight number 710, departing that day at 12:04 pm. Issac Polanco was taken straight to the airport, put on a plane, and sent to Puerto Rico.

Deported With A Warning: Polanco told me he was threatened - that if he said anything then his wife and family would be in danger. When Polanco called me he was basically looking for advice. He wanted to know, "what can I do?" I explained that his position was relatively weak. He was in fact a paid informant. In short, he was involved in criminal activity himself and he managed to avoid arrest and prosecution because he was providing information about the criminal activities of others. In fact Polanco even told me he was concerned for the safety of his wife and family, mostly because he was worried that the people he had helped to put in prison might find out they were caught based on the information he had provided. And with regards to Issac Polanco getting beat up, killed, or threatened while in La Joya - I imagine his biggest fears and concerns were for those same guys, the people he had put in prison with the information he provided. Those were probably the guys who broke his jaw. Polanco wanted to know what he could do - he wanted to return to Panama to be with his wife. Another problem he was having was that the US Embassy wouldn't issue a visa for his family to come to Puerto Rico. So, she couldn't get there, and he couldn't return to Panama. I think my bottom line advice to him was that he could move to Costa Rica, that way he could be close to Panama but not inside of Panama, and his wife could return to visit when she wanted. I also told him his chances of winning some kind of a lawsuit or legal action were probably pretty slim, because the Executive branch holds control over all the other branches of government, including the Supreme Court. Even if he submitted some kind of a complaint the long term chances were not good. Apparently he decided to go ahead and pull the trigger anyway, and of course this whole thing makes a big splash in the headlines today.

What Do I Think? In my opinion I think the whole "kidnapping" plot thing evaporated pretty quickly once Polanco and the two SPI guys were arrested. Was Isaac Polanco "tortured" while in prison? I doubt it. Was he vigorously interrogated? Probably. Was he made to be afraid? Sure, most certainly, especially in the first few hours or days when the law enforcement authorities really (really) wanted to know if there was a kidnapping plot against the president, or not. Once they figured out it was all bullshit (most likely invented by Polanco himself) then they would have calmed down significantly. They pressed charges, held him in prison for a year, had a trial, he was acquitted, and instead of being released he was deported (in a highly unusual manner, and using documents that appear to contain lies and false information.) And of course the timing of all of this is interesting, considering the political elements and angles this case will generate.

"That's About The Gist Of It" At some point in time I bounced all of this off of my law enforcement contacts at the US Embassy. Of course I can't quote them directly or attribute anything by name, and for the most part they just listened to what I thought about the whole Isaac Polanco affair, how it went down, and what was going on in truth and fact. The best I could get from them was "yeah, that's about the gist of it" and "you've got it nailed down pretty good." I think if I was completely out there in left field somewhere, they would have let me know, or at least given me a direction in which to sniff around. But I didn't bother following up because I was satisfied.

And Now The Fireworks Will Start: Who's going to investigate all of this? The Attorney General José Ayú Prado sure as hell isn't going to lift a finger - he was the one who orchestrated Polanco's arrest, detention, trial, and eventual deportation from the start. Polanco's lawyer (that's a whole different story, there) said she will be submitting a complaint before the National Assembly, because she is apparently going to name Ricardo Martinelli and the Attorney General as defendants. Let's see, does Martinelli still have 36 votes in the National Assembly? (Check). Nope, that's not going to go anywhere either. Supreme Court? No good there either, because it's 8-4 Martinelli. So Polanco basically has no chance of winning anything, and that's why I suggested he might want to consider Costa Rica. So why hire the most controvertial lawyer in Panama to move his case? And who is his lawyer? None other than Zulay Rodríguez, who went public with her accusations regarding a supposed plot to get Ana Matilde Gomez removed from office as the Attorney General, and who was responsible for the resignation of the newly appointed Supreme Court Judge José Abel Almengor. Yeah, it's political. Polanco and his case are pawns. Next...

Potential Human Rights Case: When I talked to Polanco on the phone I told him there was a recent case in which a guy from (Peru, I think?) was awarded a judgement by the International Court of Human Rights, which decided his human rights had been violated in the way he was held and deported back to Peru. I told Polanco that if the document he sent me regarding his deportation to Puerto Rico was legitimate, then he might be able to make a case on the human rights angle. Apparently, that's what he's going for.

Copyright 2011 by Don Winner for Panama-Guide.com. Go ahead and use whatever you like as long as you credit the source. Salud.

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Appeal Filed Against "Carrot Law"

Law & LawyersThe Association of Bars, Discotheques, and Nightclubs (ABDC) filed a lawsuit yesterday against Executive Decree 1424 of 9 November 2011, which regulates the hours of entertainment centers. The appeal was filed with the Third Chamber of the Administrative Court of the Supreme Court of Justice. Cristóbal Arboleda, the legal representative of this association, said the decree is unconstitutional, because it is the office of the Mayor that has the power to regulate the operating hours for bars and nightclubs, and not the executive branch of government. According to Arboleda, this decree is in violation of Law 15 of 14 April 2010, which creates the Ministry of Public Security, because this law does not establish that the entity should regulate issues pertaining to the governors.

The Executive Order Is Now In Effect: Five days after the adoption of Executive Order 1424, revenue in bars and discos on Calle Uruguay and the Zona de Rumba in Amador have fallen by up to 60%, as reported by Mario Luis Gonzalez , the President of ABDC. According to Gonzalez, the bars and clubs in these two sectors generate more than five thousand direct and indirect jobs, so therefore if this measure continues the families of those who depend on the entertainment industry will be affected. Gonzalez, who claimed to not be against the regulation, said this issue should be open to consultation and a comprehensive plan of social security.

They Will Be Fined $500: The Mayor of Panama City Bosco Vallarino said the fines against bars and clubs could be between $500 to $10,000 dollars. According Vallarino, Decree 1424 is clear in mentioning that the sale of liquor in the wee hours of the early morning is not permitted, so therefore it also applies to supermarkets that are open 24 hours, as well as casinos, hotels, and grocery stores. (Siglo)

Editor's Comment: Whoa, big fella. Did you read between the lines on that one? Bosco says (according to him) the Executive Order is clear and he thinks it also applies to hotels and casinos. So what's he going to do? He will wait until after 3:00 am, walk into a casino, find that they are selling booze, and hit them with a $10,000 fine. Ka-ching! Has anyone figured this out yet? Booze. Liquor. Varela. Got it? It's all politics. All of it.

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A New Scandal Over Land Titles, This Time The "Punta de Farallón"

Law & Lawyers#Panama - A new scandal emerged over property near the beach in the province of Cocle, this time it's the beach at Farallon de Anton. According to representatives from the office of the Justice of the Peace in Antón, these are lands owned by the municipality, that the National Authority of Land Management (ANATI) gave to a private person. This land is the so-called "Punta de Farallón," nearly three acres of municipal land that could not be titled in the name of the municipality, because it was transferred to a corporation. The Municipality of Anton lodged a complaint with the Public Ministry calling for the return of the municipal land, and asking for an investigation in order to determine to whom, exactly, was the land granted, and under what concepts.

Rafael Sanchez, the representative of the area of Caballero de Antón, explained that the nearly three acres of land are the only ones owned by the Municipality that has beaches for public use, and if the government gives them to an individual, definitely there will be no public access to the beaches in Anton.

For her part, Claribel Jimenez, municipal consultant, said the Anton Municipality has launched a series of investigations on the land. "The Municipality of Anton has to defend those lands or property it considers to be its own and therefore, they are going to bring the actions needed to find out whether or not there were any irregularities in the process, then proceed to recover. If necessary we will go to the Supreme Court," she said. (Panama America)

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Martinelli Will Call For Special Legislative Sessions in December

Law & Lawyers#Panama - President Ricardo Martinelli announced in the province of Cocle he would call the National Assembly into special sessions in December 2011. These sessions will cover topics such as the approval of Martinelli's Supreme Court appointments, the discussion of Bill 394 (Mining Code), and to return the controversial bill 349, which would create the Public-Private Partnerships, to committee for further public consultations. Martinelli, who was in the province by the granting of the universal scholarships, said he did not have to call for special sessions "every time," because the National Assembly "should create an agenda evaluate the issues to be discussed," he said. Referring to the possibility of coming changes in the cabinet, the president joked "there are always changes." With regard to the ongoing medical strike, Martinelli said "it is an outrage the physicians are making (with) the Panamanian people." On the subject of returning Bill 349 to the first debate, Martinelli said those articles that should be changed, will be changed. After lamenting the murder of the former Governor of Cocle Dario Fernandez, who was killed last Sunday night, Martinelli announced that a suspect has already been captured. (Panama America)
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Mulino Says Police Will Continue To Use Pele Police - Despite Judge's Decision

Law & Lawyers#Panama - The National Police will continue to use the handheld data systems known as the "Pele Police" said Security Minister Jose Raul Mulino, in rejecting the demands being made by Miguel Antonio Bernal, who has asked for the suspension of the use of the devices until regulated by a law. Mulino said he only has one boss, the President of the Republic, and that a new law is not needed for the continued use of the Pele Police systems. Mulino said this argument makes no sense, because if so, then they would need a law in order to use breathalyzers, in install antennas to block cell phone calls in prisons, and others. (TVN)

Editor's Comment: A couple of weeks ago a Panamanian judge ruled in favor of a man who refused to participate in a screening being conducted by the National Police at the Albrook bus terminal. When he refused his entire family was arrested and taken to the police station. The case against the man was thrown out, and the judge ruled there was no law or regulation allowing the use of the Pele Police system in Panama. It's been a topic of discussion since then, with opposition elements (such as Bernal) saying the use of the systems should be suspended until a new law is passed and regulations are implemented to govern the use of the Pele Police systems. The National Police, Security Minister Mulino and the Executive branch in general has basically thumbed its collective nose at the judge's decision, saying it only applies to that one case, and that it cannot be interpreted or applied in a general manner to the entire Pele Police system across the board. The Director of the National Police Gustavo Perez said they can quickly and easily screen hundreds or thousands of people, and in the "old days" before this system existed, if they wanted to check you out to see if there were any wants or warrants against you, they would detain you, take you down to the police station, and make phone calls. That's why the police can still arrest and detain any person - even today - for up to 24 hours for no reason whatsoever. So, either participate in the Pele Police screenings, or be prepared to spend a day in jail.

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Bill 349 Will Not Be Discussed Until January 2012

Law & LawyersThe president of the National Assembly, Hector Aparicio, said today that the controversial Bill 349, which creates the system of Public Private Partnership (PPP) shall not be taken up in parliament today, nor during special sessions until January 2012, according to preliminary agreements. In this respect, during the remaining two months of 2011, the Committee responsible for the issue will discuss the entire bill, article by article. With regards to infrastructure, they will be identified by name, as in the case of the construction of the City of Knowledge. In the morning, Dr. Fernando Castañeda, the director of the National Negotiating Medical Commission (COMENENAL), told TVN News that law 349, which has stalled in the second debate, is harmful and they are trying to privatize basic services of the Panamanian population. He added that approval would lend itself to bribery and corruption. The project does not advocate the outsourcing of services, but privatization, and it is designed for entrepreneurs to gain since they can think of the idea, said the doctor. (Estrella)
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National Assembly Session Ending - Many Projects Remain In Limbo

Law & Lawyers #Panama - There are currently a total of 38 bills in second debate in the National Assembly. Now they will have to wait until January 2012, for the start of the second term of the third legislative period. The regular sessions of the current term end on 31 October 2011. However, this session has been bumpy: Several projects were stalled. Two issues captured the public's attention in the past two weeks. The bill creating the Public Private Partnerships (PPP) prompted the doctors of the Santo Tomas hospital to go out on strike in protest. And the proposal that restores certain provisions of the Code of Mineral Resources met stiff opposition from the people from the Comarca Ngäbe Buglé, generating stagnation in the legislative agenda.

The discussion of the PPP project, proposed by the executive, was suspended, while the initiative to reactivate provisions of the Code of Mineral Resources, proposed by Congressman Raúl Hernández and in which there is much interest the Executive for approval, also might not be approved on Monday because because there is not enough time to complete the two debates that are pending.

"It's not only the term of National Assembly President [Hector] Aparicio, but what is happening in the Assembly is that from day one, we have been entirely subordinated to the will of President [Ricardo] Martinelli, without any ability to counter and control, and with no ability to avoid the serious mistakes the Martinelli government has made, such as with Law 8 which amended the Mineral Resources and generated serious protests last February," questioned Milton Henriquez, the President of the opposition Popular Party.

According to the opposition National Assembly Deputy from the Molirena political party Jorge Alberto Rosas, the error in the Assembly was that in recent weeks they began to discuss projects that required further study. He noted there is some degree of responsibility in the committees, where he thinks that many of these proposals have not been evaluated to the required depth, and where many points of conflict could have been eliminated. "In practical terms the current session is already closed. I know the Assembly will learn from their bad experiences, especially those lawmakers from the Democratic Change political party will learn from their mistakes, and to lead the discussion of projects in a better way," said Rosas.

The President of the National Assembly Hector Aparicio said so far in the current term several important pieces of legislation have passed. Laws, for example, to strengthen public finances to "revert the benefit to the country, particularly in the hardest hit class of Panamanian society."

Among the projects still waiting for the second and third debate are;

  • Project 396 granting a moratorium on the payment of employee-employer share in the CSS.
  • Project 398 that creates the Guardian Angel Program
  • Project 349 that creates the Public Private Partnership scheme (PPP) (Suspended)
  • Project 319 which adopted as symbols of the nation, the flag, the anthem and the coat (Suspended)
  • Project 394 on Mineral Resources Code (down to item 14)
  • Project 310 to reform the National Lottery
  • Project 292, which reforms the Electoral Code
  • Project 131 amending the Judicial Code on the Investigation and Prosecution of Deputies in the National Assembly
  • Project 140 on the Private International Law Code of Panama
  • Project 338 which amends the Criminal Code to punish theft of technological equipment from schools and public institutions
  • Project 21 creates a special jurisdiction of integrity and transparency to prevent, detect and punish corruption in the judiciary. (Prensa)

Editor's Comment: In Panama a proposed law, also called a "bill" or a "project" in Panamanian Spanish, starts at the Committee level where it is discussed and debated by the committee members. This is known as the "first debate." Once it has been approved by committee, it is then forwarded to the full membership of the National Assembly for the "second" and "third" debates. The President of the National Assembly controls the agenda, and if he wants to stall or suspend something from being debated, he can. Once a bill has been discussed and voted on twice, then it's been passed and approved as a new law and will be sent to the president for signature. That's the terminology used when talking about this stuff. You will frequently see "National Assembly approves new law about (whatever) in third debate."

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National Police File Appeal To "Pele Police" Court Ruling

Law & Lawyers#Panama - The National Police (PN) insisted yesterday they would request the revocation of the Seventh Criminal Court ruling (through an appeal) that outlawed the use of the handheld "Pele Police" data systems, although as of 18 October 2011 that decision was duly executed, sources withing the Gil Ponce Palace of Justice confirmed. Members of the legal advisory team of the National Police went yesterday to the chambers of the Judge of the Seventh Criminal Court, Felipe Fuentes, and presented a legal document so they could become plaintiffs in the process, and at the same time they filed an appeal to the ruling. During the development of the whole process, which dates from 2010, the police did not become an interested party in the case. Meanwhile, the Ninth Circuit Prosecutor yesterday also asked Judge Fuentes to clarify his decision, asking if the use of the "Pele Police" system was now prohibited as a result of the decision, or if this decision applies only to this one particular case.

For the constitutional and former Supreme Court Justice Aura Emérita Guerra de Villalaz, the decision handed down by judge Fuentes sets an "excellent" precedent, since it was based on the fact that there is neither a statute nor a regulation governing the used of the "Pele Police" system by the National Police officers. However, she said in her opinion the decision is not general or universal in nature with regards to compliance, but only and exclusively for the parties to the process.

Asked about the issue, Security Minister Jose Raul Mulino preferred not to make a public comment at this time, while the National Police, through a press release, interpreted that the court's decision is not for "general application" and it was only limited to a specific case, and therefore it did not outlaw the use of "a technological tool in harmony with the functions of the police force". (Prensa)

Editor's Comment: Interesting. The retired Supreme Court judge interprets this ruling to apply only to those involved in the case. And now the National Police have joined the case in order to file and appeal. Logically, they are now part of the case, so now (logically) the decision also applies to them, right? Anyway, apparently you now have the right to refuse to participate in the use of the "Pele Police" system screenings, if you want to. But, be prepared to face the consequences if you do. My suggestion would be to let the Panamanians figure this one out among themselves, and that foreigners should just cooperate and go with the flow whenever possible.

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National Assistance Program Director Notified of Complaint

Law & Lawyers#Panama - The Director of the National Assistance Program, Giacomo Tamburrelli, went to the office of the Electoral Prosecutor to be officially notified of a complaint filed against him by the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) on the alleged "purchase" of National Assembly Deputies using public funds. Tamburelli met with Secretary General of prosecutor's office, who informed him that the record is open and current, and they are waiting for the Electoral Tribunal to lift the immunity of the former Minister of Economy and Finance, Alberto Vallarino, who is also linked to the case. The Electoral Prosecutor Eduardo Peñalosa also said he is waiting for a ruling from the Electoral Tribunal. He also reported that Tamburelli expressed readiness to cooperate with the examination proceedings. (Telemetro)

Editor's Comment: The allegations from the PRD are that basically the ruling government of Ricardo Martinelli is using these "National Assistance Program" funds to "buy" National Assembly Deputies. Meaning, if you join their Cambio Democratico party then you and your district can get the funds, but if you don't join then you can't. Also, unless I'm mistaken, the Office of the Electoral Prosecutor is one of the few public offices in the entire Republic of Panama that remains in the hands of the PRD. So, they are literally swinging the very last sword they have. Expect the counter attack, any minute now...

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