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Crusading Spanish judge barred from courts for 11 years

Jurist convicted of overstepping his authority

DOMINIQUE FAGET/AFP/Getty Images

Protesters in Madrid demonstrated in support of Baltasar Garzon yesterday.

Spain’s Supreme Court convicted a crusading judge yesterday of overstepping his authority in a wiretapping case and ordered him suspended from the courts for 11 years. There is no appeal.

The judge, Baltasar Garzon, one of Spain’s most contentious judicial personalities, is renowned for pressing cases against former dictators, including General Augusto Pinochet of Chile, and ordering an inquiry into atrocities committed by fascist forces during the Spanish Civil War.

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Garzon, 56, had argued that his order to use wiretaps to monitor conversations between lawyers and their clients in a 2008 corruption case was legal. The decision by the Supreme Court, which ruled 7-0 to convict, prohibited him from “obtaining during the duration of the sentence any employment or duty with judicial or governing functions within the judiciary,’’ according to a written ruling reported by news agencies.

The case is one of three against Garzon. A second case accuses him of overstepping his authority in investigating thousands of deaths and disappearances during the civil war and the dictatorship of General Francisco Franco that followed it, and the third case other concerns a possibly improper financial relationship he had with Santander, a Spanish bank.

The prosecution in the Spanish Civil War case concluded Wednesday. No date for a verdict has been set, but if the judge is convicted in that case he could receive further disciplinary action.

Garzon’s supporters, including the rights organizations Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have called all three cases against him politically motivated.

He is perhaps most famous for his aggressive use of Spain’s doctrine of universal jurisdiction, which permits prosecution within Spain of crimes committed elsewhere. Garzon used that doctrine in his effort to extradite Pinochet to face trial in Spain, an effort that eventually failed.

Baltasar Garzon is known for pressing cases against former dictators.

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The judge was also prominent for holding Spanish officials to account for corruption and for the prosecution of ETA, the Basque separatist group, for its campaign of terrorist bombings to press its cause.

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