Wednesday, December 06, 2017

The Judge Who Finally Retired

José Castro may be thanking his lucky stars that he's not younger. As it is, he would normally have retired earlier. He stayed on until he was 72. There were investigations and continuity that needed him.

Judge Castro, the hero of the people, Judge Dread for some (those in his sights); he rode into court - well, not quite - on his high-powered bike. On a steel horse he rode, wanting them dead or alive. Not, it should be said, that there were too many deaths, other than natural ones. Who was it coined the "Sicily without the bodies" bon mot? Matias Vallés or Andreu Manresa, so it is argued. If he were a younger man, one begins to wonder if he might discover the bodies. If there are any: allegedly, always allegedly, the stock adverb to constantly be applied.

Cursach came too late for Judge Castro. He, Cursach, was in any event the domain of another judge, Manuel Penalva. In a way, Penalva stumbled across Cursach. He wasn't the prime target, but investigations have a funny way - funny, hilarious, troubling, convoluted, despicable ways of finding their unexpected courses. The course that led to Cursach started with some suspect police exams. Mallorca never ceases to surprise and amaze.

Someone else deserved the limelight, if this is the right way to describe being the investigating judge for a case that eclipses any others to have preceded it. The limelight might not genuinely be what any judge wants. Not with this case. Penalva awaits a decision on his possible recusal. And you have to ask why and how this possibility has come about.

But to return to the now retired Castro. Some will say that he enjoyed, even cultivated the limelight. I don't think he did either. His high-profile status couldn't have meant anything else other than the limelight. As with prosecutors, such as Pedro Horrach, eminent investigating judges have celebrity thrust upon them. It goes with the territory. This is Mallorca, this is Spain, where judges and prosecutors are as well-known as any celebrity villains (alleged or proven) they pursue.

He became a judge in 1976. He started out in Seville. He came to Mallorca in 1985. He was initially a judge with the social court dealing with employment and labour affairs. Six years later he went to the Court of Instruction, the principal court for criminal investigation. He stayed there. He is the longest serving judge in the Balearics and quite possibly in Spain. Such longevity is bound to rub off in the form of some celebrity.

We know him mainly because of the names he is associated with. He investigated a former president of the Balearics, Jaume Matas. The cases against Matas are still arriving in court. But years before, soon after moving to the Court of Instruction, there was a serving president in whom he took an interest. Castro, it is said, was convinced that Gabriel Cañellas was behind the so-called "caso Calvia", one into bribery at Calvia town hall. The Balearic High Court was to decide that there wasn't evidence.

There have also been Princess Cristina and her husband Iñaki Urdangarin, with Matas almost a bit-part supporting actor to the principals in the "caso Nóos". Castro believed there was a case against the princess. Horrach didn't. There was, as a result, something of a professional falling-out, but he insists that they have remained friends. The disagreement nevertheless served to cloud the public's perceptions not just of the princess but also of judge and prosecutor. Those perceptions are probably still clouded.

Castro accepted the prosecution of the so-called and now discredited far-right union, Manos Limpias. As someone who was approached by Podemos to stand for election, his independence - politically and legally - was impeccable. The disagreement with Horrach was impeccable; they just saw and interpreted things differently. In a recent interview, he said that the Infanta (Cristina) was "the éminence grise". A definition of this is "a person who exercises power or influence in a certain sphere without holding an official position". In that interview, he set out in quite staggering detail what he believed was the case against the princess.

So, he has now retired. Mallorca has lost its most famous judge, one held in massive regard by the public. Penalva is an unwitting recipient of the baton of public interest. One can only wonder what Castro makes of events and wonder if he would have wanted to be the investigator. Not that a judge necessarily chooses to be; he or she can't avoid the responsibility.

And it is an almighty responsibility. There will be those who query the judicial process here, and I am one of them. This process, because of its highly public character, places judges and prosecutors under greater pressure than would otherwise be the case. They deal with it, and it is remarkable that they do.

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