Venezuela’s National Assembly Rejects Petition to Impeach Two Supreme Court Judges

Venezuela's National Assembly dismissed what had become a highly politicized motion for the impeachment of two judges on the Venezuelan Supreme Tribunal of Justice.
National Assembly President Cilia Flores announced Monday that the motion against the judges would not proceed "because the legal conditions for removing the judges from their posts is not there." (Prensa AN)

Mérida, June 24, 2008 (– The Venezuelan National Assembly (AN) dismissed what had become a highly politicized motion for the impeachment of two judges on the Venezuelan Supreme Tribunal of Justice (TSJ), Carlos Oberto Vélez and Blanca Rosa Mármol de León. The motion had been initiated by two out of the three entities which make up the Citizen Power branch of the Venezuelan government.

Cilia Flores, the President of the AN, explained on Monday that the motion did not comply with all the procedures established by the law.

“The motion does not proceed because the qualification of the infraction was made by simple majority and not by unanimity,” Flores announced, specifying that “Article 23 of the Organic Law for the Supreme Tribunal of Justice, … establishes that the solicitation [for sanctions] should be unanimous.”

Within the Citizen Power branch, Human Rights Defender Gabriela Ramírez and Comptroller Clodosbaldo Russián were in agreement that charges should be filed against the judges, but Attorney General Luisa Ortega Díaz recused herself because the charges against the judges had to do with cases that she was involved in before she became Attorney General.

“In practice, this means that the legal conditions for the AN in plenary to remove the judges are not there,” Flores told the press, adding that the motion will now be returned to Citizen Power.

Mármol de Leon commented Monday that “rationality was imposed” on the matter when the different branches of the government “realized that there is a constitution and laws that we should respect, most of all when they are such important procedures as the destitution of a TSJ judge.”

Despite the lack of unanimity, the Moral Council, which represents the Citizen Power entities before the AN, had presented its solicitation for sanctions against the judges to the AN on June 11th.

Judge Carlos Oberto Vélez was accused of “ignoring constitutional principles and showing non-impartial conduct” in a previous decision on the partition of the inheritance of two prominent Venezuelan families.

Judge Mármol de León was accused of allegedly violating due process laws when she tried to expedite a treason investigation against leaders of the opposition group Súmate. Súmate is accused of having misused funds it received from the U.S. government funded National Endowment for Democracy when it supported the recall referendum against President Chavez in August 2004.

In her defense, Mármol de León insisted that the matter had already been closed in 2004 when a penal court ruled the judge’s efforts to hasten the Sumate investigation inadmissable. Thus, the re-vamping of the case nearly four years later “has no juridical sustenance” and appears to be an arbitrary political attack, she said.

“There are probably other factors because there is no other way to explain this act of affirming in a categorical manner that I have gone against the constitution and the laws four years after the fact,” Mármol de León asserted in her defense two weeks ago.

Mármol de León also harshly criticized Comptroller Clodosbaldo Russián last week, saying that to have proceeded with the motion without achieving unanimity in the Citizen Power entities was “a clear demonstration of his arbitrariness” and that he is “usurping his functions” as Comptroller.

Opposition leaders and the opposition newspaper El Nacional suggested earlier this month that the controversy reveals that the rule of law is lacking in the nation’s highest court and legislative assembly.

To this assertion, Saúl Ortega, the Vice President of the AN, replied, “The opposition is erratic to the extreme. The news we should value is that the organs of public power are functioning, they have been submitted to many processes and this is one more demonstration that they are functioning and that in this country there are no untouchables.”

Mármol de León said Monday that there is a “tendency” in Venezuela to “renounce one’s rights and hope for the best.” The judge suggested that her persistence in defending her rights in accordance with the law, which resulted in a decision by the AN in both judges’ favor, should increase citizens’ faith that “it is worthwhile to exercise the law.”