Prominent Polish judge reinstated amid standoff with EU

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland’s Supreme Court on Tuesday reinstated a judge who was suspended for two years and became a symbol of the struggle for independent courts under the country’s populist government.

The Supreme Court said Judge Igor Tuleya was not guilty of a crime which prosecutors had accused him of, and his reinstatement was welcomed by many fellow judges and other advocates of judicial independence.

Prosecutors have still not dropped their case against Tuleya. It was brought because he allowed journalists to witness his announcement of a 2017 ruling that was a matter of keen interest to the government and the public.

It was not immediately clear if his reinstatement would be enough to end a standoff between the Warsaw government and the European Union, which has blocked billions of euros (dollars) in pandemic recovery funding to Poland over what it views as the government’s erosion of judicial independence.

The decision is the latest development in a complex seven-year standoff between the government and Polish judges seeking to maintain their independence from political control.

Tuleya, who also had his salary docked 25%, is one of several judges to be disciplined due to their rulings and their criticism of judicial changes under the government, which won elections in 2015.

The government, led by the conservative Law and Justice party, has been making changes to the entire judicial branch of government — remaking the courts and other judicial bodies. Political leaders have frequently said their aim is to discipline a “caste” of judges, alleging judges have been corrupt and too engaged in politics.

The changes to the system have led to a situation in which certain legal bodies and judges tapped by the government are viewed as illegitimate by many other judges and lawyers, who argue that the changes were made in violation of Poland’s constitution.

In his first reaction, Tuleya said Tuesday that he felt his situation belonged in a Franz Kafka novel.

“I was suspended by something that is not a court and reinstated by something that is not a court. So I feel a bit like I have been in a dream for over two years,” he said, according to remarks published by the state news agency, PAP.

He said he planned to return to work at the Warsaw District Court on Wednesday but was prepared for anything.

The Supreme Court’s action was viewed as a blow to Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro, who has taken an uncompromising stance against the EU. Some other government officials want to compromise on the judicial front to end the standoff and receive the recovery funds.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said the court’s decision to reinstate Tuleya demonstrated its independence, which he described as the most important thing.

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