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The courage to intervene

29 November 2018

In the latest edition of Increasing Access, A&O’s pro bono and community investment magazine, partner Valentin Berea talks about defending Dr Camelia Bogdan, a judge who imposed important corruption convictions in Romania

In August this year, an estimated 50,000 people marched towards Bucharest’s parliament in the latest of a series of anti-corruption demonstrations across Romania – the largest street protests in the country since the fall of communism in 1989.

The protests are aimed at proposed judicial reforms that critics argue will make it harder to prosecute senior politicians and business people – thereby undermining a campaign against corruption in Romania that has received widespread international praise in recent years.
The expulsion of Dr Camelia Bogdan
Central to the anti-corruption campaign in the judiciary is Dr Camelia Bogdan, the first judge to issue criminal sentences against politicians and powerful business leaders in the country, as well as seizing proceeds of crime worth tens of millions of Euros.
However, as Valentin Berea – partner at RTPR, A&O’s associated firm in Romania – explains, the success of Dr Bogdan’s anti-corruption work has come at significant personal cost as powerful opponents have long tried to discredit her.
In February 2017, Dr Bogdan was expelled from the Romanian Magistracy on charges of conflict of interest, following a seminar she gave to public servants on anti-corruption.
The charges hinged on the fact that Dr Bogdan was trying a high-profile corruption case against a Romanian media mogul at the time she gave the seminar to civil servants, some of who were from the Ministry of Agriculture, an injured party in the case.
Although the conflict of interest accusation was rejected, the Superior Council of Magistrates in Romania found that teaching the seminar, in exchange for a nominal fee, was incompatible with the office of magistrate and permanently expelled Dr Bogdan. 
“Not only was this a devastating sanction for a judge,” says Valentin Berea, “it also dealt a symbolic blow to the growing anti-corruption movement in Romania and was seen as a move to intimidate other judges.
“Dr Bogdan and I went to law school together and I felt strongly that we should challenge the exaggerated charges against her. It wasn’t an easy decision because of the political context, but for exactly that reason she was unlikely to get help from another firm, so we took on her case pro bono.”
A first-time challenge in the Romanian Courts
The team from RTPR was led by Valentin, alongside associates Vicu Buzac, Andrada Rusan and Bogdan Nae, plus Professor Lucian Mihai, Of Counsel with RTPR and professor at the University of Bucharest.
The team’s approach was to question, for the first time in the Romanian Courts, whether the law on judges’ ‘cumulating offices’ had been correctly interpreted. Should judges’ expertise be confined to the courtroom, or should they be able occasionally to use their knowledge for the good of society – for instance by teaching courses on subjects of public interest?
The case raised many constitutional issues and, for Valentin and the litigation team, was legally fascinating.
“We worked full-time on the case, often through the night,” says Valentin. “We argued that on similar occasions the Superior Council of Magistrates had taken a different position – for instance when they deemed it acceptable for a judge to teach a seminar to future diplomats – but, in any event, Dr. Bogdan’s actions should never have warranted her exclusion from the judiciary.”
The case attracted wide support from the whole RTPR/A&O office in Bucharest, with many members of staff volunteering to help at busy times.
“We knew that Dr Bogdan desperately needed good legal representation,” says Valentin, “but this was a high-profile political matter with wide implications. The businessman who made the charges owned many TV channels and media outlets in Romania, so for a long time Dr Bogdan was under severe personal attack in that section of the media.
Being in the political and media spotlight is not a comfortable position for many lawyers, but Valentin believes it was the right thing to do. “I’m proud that all our partners were on board and that we had the courage to intervene.”
Full reinstatement and compensation
Following the court challenge, Dr Bogdan received a formal warning from the High Court of Cassation and Justice – the mildest form of sanction – and was reinstated as a judge with full financial compensation for the period during which she had been expelled.
“While the impact of the decision for Dr Bogdan personally has been huge, the case also represents a step forward for the broader movement to strengthen the rule of law and tackle corruption in Romania,” Valentin says. “Had we lost, the businessman she prosecuted would have had good reason to request a special appeal against his conviction. Her victory denied him that opportunity.”
This case also has implications for judges in Romania, who may now be able to share their expertise on anti-corruption and other public interest subjects without fear of expulsion. This, Valentin believes, has given confidence to the judiciary as a whole.
“Previously, they had seen a young, brave judge putting an influential businessman behind bars and losing her job because of it. Now, they can see that such injustice can be overturned. Not only was Dr Bogdan received back into the magistracy, there was no case for additional or exceptional appeals against her decisions in anti-corruption cases.
“Those trial decisions now form important precedents in the fight against corruption, and the outcome of the case has been highly praised by the large sections of our society who want to see an end to corruption in Romania for good.”
FT Innovative Lawyers Awards
A&O and RTPR have been Highly Commended for our work with Dr Camelia Bodgan in the FT Innovative Lawyers Awards 2018, in the Rule of Law and Access to Justice category.
Increasing Access
This article is from the latest edition of Increasing Access – A&O’s pro bono and community investment magazine featuring articles and interviews on the impact of our work to promote access to justice, education and employment around the world.
Also in this edition:
·         Kate Cavelle, Head of Pro Bono and Community Investment, explains why our new global charity partner, Hope and Homes for Children, is working towards a world without orphanages.
·         Catherine Husted, Head of Pro Bono and Community Investment in Hong Kong, discusses the part pro bono and community investment work has played in her career
·         Read how our Social Finance and Impact Investment Group is evolving to reflect a changing market
·         As our global charity partnership ends, we look back on how much we’ve achieved with War Child, including raising a record-breaking GBP1.5 million.
·         Read about our landmark LGBT+ rights victory in Hong Kong