First trial of Spanish judge Garzon wraps up

AP News
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Posted: Jan 19, 2012 1:44 PM
First trial of Spanish judge Garzon wraps up

The first trial of the Spanish judge who became internationally known for indicting former Chilean leader Augusto Pinochet finished Thursday with the magistrate denying he unlawfully handled a domestic corruption probe.

The three-day trial of Baltasar Garzon wrapped up with him rejecting charges he had overstepped his jurisdiction by ordering wiretaps of jailhouse conversations between three defendants and their lawyers in a corruption case he was handling in 2008.

"Each and every decision I made has an explanation and a justification," Garzon told the Supreme Court in a very hoarse voice because of a cold. "They were made in strictest legality."

A verdict is not expected for some weeks. A guilty one would almost certainly end Garzon's career.

If convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of removal from the bench for 17 years. He is now 56.

The trial was the start of a grueling judicial ordeal for Garzon, who enjoys superstar status among human rights groups for championing cross-border justice, but has many political enemies at home.

The once high-flying judge faces a second and bigger trial next Tuesday for probing rightist atrocities during the Spanish civil war.

The crimes were covered by an amnesty passed in 1977 as Spain moved to restore democracy after decades of dictatorship under Gen. Francisco Franco, whose side won the war. Franco died in 1975.

That trial is expected to take a month or more. Many in Spain see the civil war trial and a third probe over his dealings with a big Spanish bank as punishment for his celebrity.

On the opening day of the first trial Tuesday, Garzon said that throughout his more than 20-year career as an investigating magistrate at the National Court he has tried to protect detainees' right to a fair defense and "I think that was done" in this case. He was suspended from the court in 2010.

The case centers on a network of business people accused of paying off members of the conservative Popular Party _ now in office _ in exchange for lucrative contracts.

Spanish law allows the bugging of jailhouse conversations between terror suspects and their lawyers. But it is vague on non-terror cases, saying jailhouse wiretaps can be ordered by judges if they believe the conversations will yield relevant evidence.

Garzon said he ordered the wiretaps because he thought people visiting two top suspects in the corruption case _ including their lawyers _ were acting as couriers to receive money-laundering instructions.

The lawyers for the two detainees argue that, since the law does not specifically allow for bugging of conversations between detainees and their lawyers in non-terror cases, Garzon acted illegally.