Early verdict expected in Judge Garzón wiretap trial

"I assume responsibility for each and every decision," says High Court magistrate in closing speech

Making a final emotional plea before the Supreme Court began to deliberate his fate on Thursday evening, High Court Judge Baltasar Garzón reaffirmed that at no time did he "violate" the right to a fair defense when, three years ago, he authorized jailhouse surveillance recordings between lawyers and the arrested suspects in the Gürtel political corruption case.

"I assume responsibility for each and every one of the decisions that I made," Garzón said, his voice breaking at times. "All the decisions have their justifications and explanations."

The Supreme Court could announce as early as Friday its verdict over whether Garzón breached his authority as a judge and violated the Gürtel suspects' constitutional guarantees and attorney-client privileges. If found guilty, he could be barred from the bench for up to 17 years.

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"No one should have listened to those conversations and they should have been destroyed"
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The defense has argued that Garzón authorized the jailhouse recordings because the suspects in the case were employing their lawyers to help launder and conceal money in overseas accounts following their arrests in February 2009. Investigators later found some 24 million euros in Swiss accounts.

"I couldn't care less who took the initiative - whether it was a nervous prosecutor or the police. The only one who made the decisions to limit constitutional guarantees is the judge. There is no doubt who was the author [of these recordings]," said one of the lawyers, Ignacio Peláez, during his closing argument.

Peláez, the lead lawyer in the complaint filed against Garzón by jailed alleged Gürtel ringleader Francisco Correa and his principal accomplice, Pablo Crespo, denied that he was trying to derail the ongoing public corruption inquiry by bringing charges against the High Court judge. He also denied he was acting on behalf of the Popular Party (PP).

In early February 2009, Correa, Crespo and dozens of politicians and businessmen, along with their wives and associates, were arrested in a nationwide sweep on Garzón's orders after an investigation showed that they had allegedly profited from millions of euros in public contracts in exchange for kickbacks with several PP local and regional governments in Madrid, Valencia and Castilla-La Mancha.

Soon after Correa and Crespo were taken to Madrid's Soto del Real prison in preventive custody, prosecutors and investigators said they became suspicious about the "daily" visits by lawyers. The wiretaps followed.

On Wednesday, police officers from the economic and fiscal crimes division (UDEF), who participated in the surveillance-recording operation, backed up Garzón's version, saying that the authorities wanted to stop the Gürtel criminal organization in its tracks and prevent more ill-gotten funds from being taken out of the country.

But Pablo Rodríguez Mourullo, who represents Crespo, said Garzón had acted like a kind of "Big Brother, who saw and heard everything."

"Mr Garzón did not commit anything outrageous, and you know it," said the judge's lawyer, Francisco Baena Bocanegra. "When you put a judge in the dock, you are putting the entire legal system on trial."

During his testimony on Tuesday, the opening day of the trial, Garzón said that he ordered all parts of the conversations where lawyers and the suspects discussed their defense strategies to be erased from the recordings. The High Court judge denied that he was interested in spying on them and wanted only to stop the money-laundering activities that were taking place on the outside while Correa and Crespo sat in jail.

"It wasn't necessary to expurgate - no one should have listened to those conversations and they should have been destroyed," Peláez said, adding that prosecutors were also at fault because they should have appealed Garzón's order.

"It is unfortunate that the accusatory lawyers have so many doubts in our legal system," responded prosecutor Antolín Herrero.

Baena reiterated Garzón's previous testimony in saying that the targets of the surveillance were the suspects and not the lawyers themselves.

Peláez, a former judge and prosecutor, explained that even though he found it "painful," he had to file the charges against Garzón because he had to defend a lawyer's right to defend a client, and lamented that Spain's Bar Association didn't join in the complaint "in the defense of the legal profession."

"It is difficult to defend a judge but to charge him with a crime is even worse," Baena said in reference to Peláez.

For his part, José Antonio Choclán, a former judge, who represents Correa, called it a "fallacy" for anyone to determine that constitutional rights can be violated on just the suspicion that a serious crime is being committed. Choclán said he was "highly upset" because he felt that he was being considered "a minor accomplice in an investigation."

He said that it was "extravagant" for anyone to think that all lawyers were instruments of a criminal organization.

"This is where the breach of duty comes in," Choclán said, "because if you permit this, the consequences are absolutely detrimental to our system of values."

Choclán was the lawyer who appeared at Correa's first bail hearing, soon after his arrest. Prosecutors feared that the suspect was planning to flee to Central America and take up nationality in one of the countries in the region.

The High Court judge next week faces another trial before the Supreme Court for allegedly trying to open an investigation into crimes committed during the Francisco Franco dictatorship.

The case was originally brought by an obscure rightwing union, Manos Limpias, and the Spanish Falange de las JONS party, which both argued that Garzón had overstepped his judicial duties by ignoring the provisions in a 1977 law that provided amnesty for both sides following the 36-year dictatorship.

At least nine international rights organizations are expected to converge in Spain to rally for Garzón's cause. Among them are Human Rights Watch, the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, Lawyers Rights Watch Canada, and Rights International Spain. The groups are demanding that the Supreme Court guarantee the rights of victims and survivors of Franco's Spain so that they can seek out justice.

The upcoming trial, which is expected to last longer than the three-day trial over the surveillance recordings, will hear testimony from victims and survivors of the dictatorship, who will take up Garzón's cause.

The Supreme Court has a third investigation open against Garzón regarding a series of lectures and conferences he organized in New York in the early part of the decade while he was on a leave of absence from the High Court.

According to the complaint filed, Garzón allegedly received money from Banco Santander chairman Emilio Botín to set up these lectures. The allegations center on the claim that in exchange the judge dropped an investigation in 2006 against Botín for alleged misappropriation of funds and mismanagement. Both Botín and Garzón have denied the charges.

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