In astonishing public statements, Spain's Justice Minister, Rafael Catalá, smeared the dissenting judge in the wolf-pack non-rape case that has outraged people across the country since the judgement was made public last Thursday.
Interviewed on the COPE radio station on Monday morning, Mr. Catalá said "everyone knows that this judge has a peculiar problem, and I am surprised the [Judicial] Council has not acted".
Ricardo González published a dissenting opinion doubting the interpretation of the victim's ordeal and calling for a not guilty verdict for the five, even suggesting the event had been "enjoyable sexual revelry". He condemned a parallel media trial and highlighted how the accused had said from the beginning that the sex had been consensual.
More than a million people have since signed a petition on Change.org to see all three of the judges on the case disqualified.
The minister did not offer any details or proof of his accusation against Judge González, but said in reference to the split judgement that condemned five men to nine years in prison for sexual abuse—but not rape—that "this could have been avoided".
He suggested two senior judicial bodies—Spain's General Council of Judicial Power and the regional High Court in Navarra—had deeper knowledge of what he was referring to.
"The Council's role is to ensure that whoever exercises judicial power has full use of their mental faculties."
"I have been told that this is a person with reports, with some problem."
Judges' and prosecutors' associations, both nationally and in Navarra, and in joint statements, called for the minister's immediate resignation.
Juan Martínez Moya, a member of Spain's Judicial Council (CGPJ), told The Spain Report that while the council was not going to "get involved in an institutional conflict", preferring "moderation and prudence", the minister's "insinuations […] called into question the trust on which our system is based".
"If the minister knows about some irregular action [by the judge in question], he should file a formal complaint before the council", said Mr. Moya.
He confirmed there was nothing on the judge's disciplinary record "over the last four years" that prevented him from ruling on cases, and that any prior problems he might have had were now spent "in every sense".
Europa Press reported the dissenting judge had been sanctioned four times—the last time in 2003—for undue delays in ruling on some cases.
"Judges' activity is presumed to be independent, impartial and professional", said Mr. Moya.
Seven national judicial and prosecutors associations said in their joint statement that Rafael Catalá had "sown public doubts on the capacity and condition" of Judge González.
They said government "meddling" in judicial affairs was "reckless" and opened up a minefield for the Spanish state.
"This is the real danger: the use of judicial rulings by the executive branch and the intentional confusion of electoral interests with what its proper role should be as a power of the state, which is to respect and ensure the correct working of its institutions."
Judicial associations in Navarra issued their own separate statement saying respect for the law and the separation of powers was paramount and that it was up to parliament to amend criminal law if MPs thought Spanish society did not agree with the current legal definition of rape.
"Respect for judicial independence is essential for guaranteeing social peace, democratic coexistence and respect for fundamental rights", said the statement, adding that the government had a special obligation to show such respect.
"It is inadmissible for people with political responsibility to use this judgement to try to discredit judges, to violate the separation of powers or to launch baseless tirades".
The regional High Court in Navarra had not responded to a request at the time of publication.
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