- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 19, 2004

“A policeman’s lot is not a happy one,” the police chorus chants mournfully in the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta, “Pirates of Penzance.” Far worse could be said about the judiciary in today’s Russia where a judge’s lot may be a premature death for performing a judge’s duties.

In a town near Moscow, two weeks ago, a man approached the 34-year-old Natalia Urlina, a local judge. She was walking to work through the park in Dolgoprudny. According to Novosti, the Russian news agency, the man, carrying a sawed-off shotgun, fired twice into her stomach. She died a few hours later. Events like these have become all too common in today’s Russia, according to Novosti.

A rule of law presupposes the physical safety of judges who interpret the law or who preside over trials based on the rule of law. Where the physical safety of judges is threatened or violated, there can be no rule of law, especially when the killers are never found.

For example, last year Judge Urlina heard a high-profile trial on the assault of three Caucasian migrants. The striking feature of the case was that a police major and senior lieutenant were in the dock. Examining the motives for the attack, Judge Urlina courageously took the side of law that demanded the policemen, in some sense her colleagues in protecting law and order, should be punished. Public advocates of the police picketed the court building, but the discontent with the judge went no further than protests.

Judge Urlina’s obituary said she was “renowned for her courage and principles. She tried different cases, both civil and criminal, that other judges tried to avoid.” What is significant about her murder is that she is not the first Russian judge to have been murdered for performing judicial duties. So far as I can find out, these murders of Russian judges have been greeted by official silence from President Vladimir Putin.

Last May, a bomb was planted in the car of Judge Zhanna Radchenko, also in Dolgoprudny. A technical defect in the detonator saved Judge Radchenko’s life. In November 2003, Karimul Dagirov, a judge in Makhachkala, a city in the Republic of Dagestan, was killed by two shots at close-range. His “crime”? He had tried the case of the theft of 43 million roubles (some $1.4 million) from the city pension fund.

In September 2001, Tatiana Florova, 34, a judge of the regional arbitration court, was shot dead in broad daylight in Yaroslavl, a large city in central Russia. Like Judge Urlina, Judge Florova was also shot on her way to work. She died on the operating table. “Exacting revenge on judges is becoming a gloomy stereotype in Russia,” said a Russian commentator.

The Russian government has supposedly tried to ensure that Russian judges live out their days to a ripe old age. A decade ago, the Duma enacted a law “On the State Protection of Judges, and Officials of Law Enforcement and Control Bodies.” The law is said to resemble witness protection laws like those in the West. If law enforcement employees start to receive threats, the judicial department calls the police. Protection is then provided, including for apartments and property, personal weapons are provided, while families are taken to a safe place. Obviously this law has operated selectively.

The Council of Judges, a national professional organization, has

proposed that the State Duma hold special hearings on judges’ safety. This may result in establishing a paramilitary security service to protect court buildings, employees and their families.

Pressure on the judiciary goes back to the days of Bolshevik power over government and society. During the seven decades of Soviet rule, there grew up a system known as “telephone justice.” The empowered Central Committee spokesman would. phone the “judge” and give him the text of the desired ruling. Party discipline demanded the judge accept and enforce the ruling. Today, the party may be over but there is now a system of external enforcers, including the state, criminal masterminds or other self-interest groups.

Arnold Beichman, a Hoover Institution research fellow, is a columnist for The Washington Times. His updated biography “Herman Wouk, the Novelist as Social Historian,” will be published next month.

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