The Council of Magistrates, the body in Argentina that hires and fires judges, has ruled that Chubut Judge Mariel Alejandra Suárez should face an impeachment trial for poor performance of her duties.
The magistrate had already been preventively suspended after judicial oversight officials opened an investigation into claims she allegedly kissed an inmate during a visit to a prison in Trelew. Video footage of the alleged kiss (the video is inconclusive, if suggestive) began circulation last year, prompting the probe.
Comodoro Rivadavia Judge Suárez stands accused of having engaged in "indecent conduct," among other breaches of office.
For the magistrate, the complaint against her was based on "illegal filming" carried out at the Chubut Provincial Penitentiary Institute (IPP) on December 29 and 30, 2021. On that occasion, Suárez met with Cristian Omar ‘Mai’ Bustos, an inmate who had recently been sentenced to life imprisonment. Suárez had been one of the three judges on the court that tried him for murdering a policeman.
"As a result of this illegal filming of me, which was manipulated and distorted, the aforementioned complaint was filed and all the subsequent proceedings were initiated. The origin of the act is illegal and consequently everything that emerges as a channel or means of investigation is null and void," argued Suárez in her written defence, to which Perfil gained access.
In addition, the judge denied other claims against her: that she "did not fail to comply" with her duties, did not allow sentences to expire, did not perform acts that were incompatible or prohibited by the Constitution, and did not disobey orders from her superiors.
"I have indicated that at no time did I perform any inappropriate or unethical acts. I only sat on the floor for a few minutes and nothing more," said the judge from Comodoro Rivadavia.
The justification she gave for this movement was that she had to carry a technological device for recording purposes, though the final report rejected this claim, noting that "the standard length of telephone or laptop cables made it possible, without any obstacle, to use the existing furniture to conduct a respectable interview."
Following the filing of a report of the investigating judge who analysed the case, the Council of Magistrates concluded that the file should be analysed by a Court of Impeachment, which took place last Tuesday. The body unanimously endorsed the proposal and decided that Suárez should face a jury trial for poor performance of his duties. In this way, the magistrate's defence, which was denounced last January, was dismissed.
For the Magistrates Council, Suárez's conduct "constitutes grounds for misconduct as established by law" for not obeying the duties imposed by the Public Ethics Law and the duty of impartiality imposed by the Criminal Procedure Code.
The body found that Suárez "adopted unseemly conduct" in relation to her position and the function required of her, and it was pointed out that information was omitted when reporting her location on the days in question.
On those dates the judge was on duty and on December 30, she was notified of the arrest of a man for the offence of housebreaking and threats. The magistrate, however, responded that she was "ill" and a court hearing had to be rescheduled for the following day.
The report said that Suárez had conducted herself "in a deceitful manner" and was not ill but was, in fact, at the provincial prison of Trelew visiting Bustos.
On December 29, 2021, Suárez travelled to a prison located on Nacional Ruta 3 between the cities of Trelew and Puerto Madryn to meet with inmate Bustos. According to the magistrate, the purpose of the meeting was linked to the development of a book she intended to write.
The judge arrived for the interview at 4.30pm, close to the end of visiting hours. The authorities in charge of the penitentiary institution assigned her a room that is usually used for meetings between inmates and defence lawyers “in view of her work status," the report, to which this newspaper had access, states.
"When Dr. Suarez met with the inmate I noticed that the greeting was not usual, they grabbed each other by the waist, kissed each other on the cheek and then sat down on the floor behind a desk. I repeat that this is not usual behaviour," observed a prison official, recalling what he saw that day from the CCTV control room.
"Then I observed that they got too close to each other. I presumed it was a kiss on the mouth because it was so close," the worker told investigators.
Another prison guard said that when the judge entered the control room where the images from the security cameras were being viewed, "a strange situation" was observed.
"The judge was sitting on the floor, with the inmate next to her, it seemed strange to me,” she recalled, adding that she saw “the inmate stroking her hair and kissing her.”
The magistrate denies those allegations fiercely. "All the conjectures that are constructed and taken from the video that was illegitimately recorded were illegitimately recorded, manipulated and redistributed by [prison] personnel are fallacious,” she said. “I understand that sitting on the floor for a few minutes can never constitute an unethical or improper act.”
For the examining officer leading the report, Suárez's conduct was "unseemly" and “inappropriate to the position of judge she holds."
The judge instigated “conduct that was at odds with the behaviour expected in accordance with her position and function, such as choosing to sit on the floor close to her interviewee.”
Bustos has found guilty of two murders, that of his nine-month-old son and of a local policeman. He was conticted of his offspring’s death in 2005, but after learning of the verdict he escaped.
Confronted by police at his mother’s home four years later, in 2009, he opened fire with guns, fatally killing 33-year-old police officer Tito Roberts and woounding another. Found guilty for the second death, he espaed again from detention and was recaptured in Chile on the run in 2016.
Bustos was found guilty of Officer Roberts’ murder on December 10, 2021 in a unanimous verdict co-signed by Suárez. The day after the tiral, the judge went to visit the accused at Esquel police station, another fact that has been cited as cause for “failing in her duty of impartiality.”