Brazil: Judges quarrel live on TV and scandalize the country

The live broadcast of a fight between two judges of the Brazilian Supreme Court (STF) has scandalized Brazilians. Chief Justice Gilmar Mendes and judge Joaquim Barbosa quarreled on Wednesday 22, during a trial on the possible unconstitutionality of a law establishing changes to civil registries. The heated row happened in front of an audience of thousands watching TV Justiça, and, soon after the images hit the Internet. As of now, the debate remains hot on the blogosphere.


Screenshot of the footage

Barbosa accused Mendes of “destroying the credibility of the judicial system”. He also challenged Mendes to talk to the man on the street, to measure his low level of popularity. Mendes, in turn, accused Barbosa of “not having morals enough to give anyone a lesson”. The video of the bickering is here [pt]. Marisinha, who watched it live, left a comment on the Opus Luri blog [pt] saying she thought the quarrel was innapropriate:

Terrível incidente. Se Gilmar está destruindo a Justiça.. Barbosa está colaborando para jogá-la no ridículo.

Terrible incident. If Mendes is helping to destroy the justice system, Barbosa is collaborating to make it ridiculous.

After the incident, the court session was suspended and Barbosa left. Mendes met with all justices except two (apart from Barbosa, one judge was on holiday). In the end, they issued a statement [pt] expressing their “confidence and respect” for Mendes. The president has since denied there is a crisis within the court.

Marco Bahé from Acerto de Contas [pt] blog says that the society needs to react, and he is sure the majority of the population sides with Joaquim Barbosa. The blog has launched an online petition [pt] in his support, so far signed by over 2,000 people.

“As palavras do ministro do Supremo Tribunal Federal Joaquim Barbosa, ontem, dão esperanças ao povo brasileiro. Enfim, um homem sério no Judiciário se pronuncia contra a aberração ética, moral e jurídica que é o senhor Gilmar “Dantas” Mendes. (…)

Gilmar conseguiu arrancar, ainda ontem, a assinatura de apoio de oito dos 11 ministros do STF. Foi uma carta curta que diz o seguinte: “Os ministros do Supremo Tribunal Federal que subscrevem esta nota, reunidos após a sessão plenária de 22 de abril de 2009, reafirmam a confiança e o respeito ao senhor ministro Gilmar Mendes na sua atuação institucional como presidente do Supremo, lamentando o episódio ocorrido nesta data.””

“Federal Supreme Court Judge Joaquim Barbosa's words, yesterday, have brought hope to Brazilian people. Finally, a serious man in the judiciary has spoken against the ethical, moral and legal aberration that sir Gilmar  “Dantas” Mendes is. (…)

Gilmar did manage, yesterday, to gather signatures of support from eight of the eleven STF judges. It was a short letter that reads: “The judges of the Brazilian Supreme Court signed below, after the plenary session on 22 April 2009, are reassured in the confidence and respect for Mr Gilmar Mendes in his institutional role as President of the Supreme Court, while regretting the incident happened on this date.”


Joaquim Barbosa – Screenshot of the footage

With eight signatures, the note seemed an unconditional display of the house's support. However, Blog do Melo [pt] points out a comment left on the Blog do Azenha, where  Mário de Oliveira brought up a new piece of information so far ignored by the main newspapers: six of those eight ministers work for the Instituto Brasiliense de Direito Público – IDP, a private university owned by Gilmar Mendes:

“Entre os professores desse instituto estão os senhores Eros Roberto Grau, Marco Aurélio Mendes de Faria Mello, Carlos Ayres Britto, Carlos Alberto Menezes Direito e a senhora Cármen Lúcia Antunes Rocha (cinco Ministros do Supremo). Ou seja, alguns dos Ministros do Supremo também são funcionários, empregados, prestadores de serviço ou contratados, seja lá como possa ser definida legalmente, a relação deles com o IDP do Presidente do Supremo. Também está na relação o Ministro Nelson Jobim.
Será que não estariam ética e moralmente impedidos de se manifestarem acerca do entrevero Joaquim Barbosa X Gilmar Mendes? Nesse caso, não há conflito de interesses já que de alguma maneira os citados têm relação com Presidente do Supremo que envolve remuneração?”

“Among the teachers of this institute are Mr Eros Roberto Grau, Marco Aurélio Mendes de Faria Mello, Carlos Ayres Britto, Carlos Alberto Menezes Direito and Mrs Carmen Lúcia Antunes Rocha (five Supreme Court judges). That is to say, some of the Supreme Ministers also are workers, employees, service providers or contractors, however it is defined legally, of the IDP owned by the president of the Supreme Court. The name of the Minister Nelson Jobim also appears on the list.
Should they be ethically and morally prevented from speaking about the quarrel between Joaquim Barbosa and Gilmar Mendes? In this case, isn't there a conflict of interests considering that the above mentioned have a relationship to the said president of the Supreme Court that involves remuneration?”

Unhappy with the note written by the judges, Tandai Ayan [pt] blogged her own manifesto:

“Se os oito ministros do STF emitiram nota de apoio ao Min. Gilmar Mendes, Presidente do STF eu, Tandai Ayan, brasileira, eleitora apta em meu município, contribuinte regular dos impostos, dentre estes os que pagam os salários dos eminentes Ministros do STF, quero aqui, MANIFESTAR MEU APOIO, de público, ao MINISTRO JOAQUIM BARBOSA, não somente pelo episódio ocorrido, mas, sobretudo, por traduzir a insatisfação do Povo Brasileiro neste contexto atual do Poder Judiciário, e particularmente de minha pessoa, como cidadã que sou, na defesa dos princípios constitucionais e na moralidade do Poder Judiciário.”

“If the eight  STF judges have issued a note of support of the judge Gilmar Mendes, President of the STF, I, Tandai Ayano, Brazilian, constituent of my city, regular taxpayer, among them taxes that pay for the salaries of senior judges of the STF, want to hereby express publicly my support for JUDGE JOAQUIM BARBOSA, not only because of what happened, but mainly for translating people's dissatisfaction in the current context of the Brazilian Judiciary, and particularly for me, as the citizen that I am, in defense of constitutional principles and the morality of the Judiciary.”


Gilmar Mendes – Screenshot of the footage

There were some voices for Gilmar Mendes too. Among them, Adrualdo Catão [pt] believes Gilmar Mendes is a fine judge doing his job who was the victim of a live broadcast assault:

“O Ministro Barbosa precisa pensar um pouco na responsabilidade de sua missão. Sair por aí atirando pedras, simplesmente porque discorda da tese dos outros não é algo próprio de um membro do STF. Muito menos repercutir acusações abstratas de blogueiros e revistas. Se tem algo contra Mendes, que prove.”

“Judge Barbosa needs to think a little about the responsibility of his mission. Going around throwing stones simply because he disagrees with others’ theses is not the right behaviour for a member of the STF. Even less is reverberating accusations made by bloggers and magazines. If he has anything against Mendes, he has to prove it.

Eduardo Graeff [pt] believes that the quarrel raised a fundamental issue for the country: the clash between modernization and conservativism of the justice system in Brazil. He says Gilmar Mendes might be seen as a nuisance by some, but he is an encouragement to others, like himself:

“Os conservadores reclamam do ativismo do presidente do STF. Esse pecado é na verdade a grande virtude de Gilmar Mendes. Ele comprou a briga pela modernização da Justiça. Pisou no acelerador das mudanças possibilitadas pela Constituição de 1988 e começadas por Nelson Jobim e Ellen Gracie. Botou o dedo nas feridas do corporativismo, do laxismo, do populismo judicial.”

“The conservatives complain about the STF president's activism. This sin is in fact Gilmar's greatest virtue. He took up the fight for the modernization of the Justice system. He worked full throttle on the changes allowed by the 1988 Constitution and started by Nelson Jobim and Ellen Gracie. He has rubbed salt into the wounds of corporatism, laxity, judicial populism.”

Reactions to the media reactions

Gilmar Mendes has always enjoyed media respect, despite controvertial decisions that have caused considerable anger in legal circles, and, in turn, have badly damaged his popularity. Luis Nassif [pt] collates the media reactions to the row, and says that it is high time the mainstream media caught up:

“A resistência da mídia em manter os olhos fechados a essa postura horrorosa de Gilmar Mendes cobrou um preço altíssimo, no descrédito dos jornalões. Já escrevi algumas vezes que jamais vi um divórcio igual entre a linha dos jornais e o pensamento do leitor.”

The media's insistence on keeping their eyes closed to Gilmar Mendes’ horrific posture has cost the big papers with the high price of losing credibility. I have written a few times that I have never seen such a divorce between the newspapers’ and reader's lines of thought.”

Luiz Carlos Azenha lists the facts the media should be reflecting about instead of focusing  on Barbosa's “bad temper”. He says the media is there to disinform, confuse – not to explain. He concludes:

“Ora, para explicar os motivos por trás do bate-boca entre Gilmar Mendes e Joaquim Barbosa, a mídia seria obrigada a fazer o que não fez até agora: informar. Por isso, tanto ela quanto Gilmar Mendes vão mudar de assunto rapidinho.”

“Well, to explain the reasons behind the quarrel between Gilmar Mendes and Joaquim Barbosa, the media would be forced to do what they have not done up to now: to inform. Therefore, both media and Gilmar Mendes will just change the subject quickly.”

On Twitter, @candidanobre shows the divide between traditional and social medias:

gilmar mendes dominando a grande mídia e o #joaquimbarbosaday movimentando por aqui. Por estas, ainda tenho esperança na rede.

Gilmar Mendes dominating the mainstream media and # joaquimbarbosaday exciting us here. That's why I still have hope in the web.

Reactions online and the #joaquimbarbosaday


For many net citizens judge Joaquim Barbosa has given voice to what many Brazilians think about Gilmar Mendes, and social networks are pulsing with reactions. Many new communities have opened up on the popular Orkut, some of them even puting Joaquim Barbosa's name forward for president in the 2010 elections. A new blog – I am a fan of judge Joaquim Pereira – was created. But the more engaging reactions were on the twittersphere, with many people changing avatars to show support for Barbosa. It was #joaquimbarbosaday:

Twitter Brazilians [pt] blog explains how it all started: @direitodopovo twittered in the morning having a picture of Joaquim Barbosa as his avatar and the hashtag #joaquimbarbosaday.

“A campanha, criada por @direitodopovo, rendeu mais de 400 mensagens e a participação de 50 tuiteiros, uma média de 8 mensagens por usuário.”

“The campaign started by @direitodopovo caused over 400 reactions and the participation of over 50 tweeters, with about 8 messages per user”


Posted on April 23, 2009 by arlesophia

Antonio Arles [pt] says that the web has proved one more time that it is an important vehicle for the exercise of citizenship:

“Através do Twitter fizemos um “twitasso” (manifestação virtual) para apoiar o Ministro Joaquim Barbosa, que ontem (22)  falou o que estava entalado na garganta de grande parte do povo brasileiro para o ministro Gilmar Mendes. O ministro Gilmar Mendes, presidente do STF, vem desmoralizando a Justiça com seus arroubos autoritários e suas “ligação perigosas” com bandidos julgados e condenados.”

“We did a twitasso (virtual event) on Twitter to support the Judge Joaquim Barbosa, who yesterday (22) told judge Gilmar Mendes what was stuck in the throat of most of the Brazilian people. Judge Gilmar Mendes, STF President, has demoralized the justice system with his authoritarian behaviour and “dangerous liaisons” with tried and judged criminals. “

Healthy row

Despite huge media and audience criticism of the Supreme Court Judges’ row, and even of the fact that it was broadcast live on TV, some judges believe this is the way forward: Marcos Alencar [pt] wishes every court session in the country were broadcast live in a bid to increase transparency:

Quase todos os dias, sabemos de histórias envolvendo discussões acirradas e desrespeitosas entre Juízes e advogados, que se esvaem diante da falta de provas. Com a filmagem, isso seria coibido e teríamos como apurar quem provocou os desrespeitou quem.

Imagine se essa sessão do STF não tivesse sido filmada, divulgada ao vivo na TV Justiça? Certamente ficaria apenas no disse-me-disse, muito diferente de todo o espetáculo televisivo.
Tenho certeza que filmadas as audiências o respeito entre os Magistrados e advogados reinariam, continuaria a haver confronto, mas dentro de uma linha de respeito.

Nearly every day, we hear stories of heated and disrespectful rows between judges and barristers, which are empty because of the lack of proof. If they were filmed, it would be prevented and we would be able to verify who provoked or disrespected others.

Imagine if this session at the STF had not been recorded, broadcast live on TV? It would surely end up on the grapevine, very different to the TV show.

I am sure that, if the court sessions were taped, there would be more respect between judges and barristers, there would still be confrontations, but with more respect.

Judge Jorge Alberto Araujo [pt] believes that heated debates are generally positive:

“É muito bom que tenhamos um certo embate na nossa Corte Superior. Dá uma sensação de que as decisões não são de bastidores e que os magistrados de primeiro grau, e por conseguinte o Poder Judiciário como um todo, têm, por exemplo nas pessoas dos ministros Joaquim Barbosa e Marco Aurélio, seus atentos defensores, havendo aquele importante contrapeso que impede que a Justiça, nas palavras do próprio Ministro Joaquim Barbosa, seja destruída.”

“It is good to have a clash in our Supreme Court. It gives us the feeling that decisions are not taken backstage and that the first degree magistrates, and therefore the Judiciary as a whole, have such attentive supporters as Judges Joaquim Barbosa and Marco Aurelio, providing an important counterweight to prevent the courts from, in the words of Judge Joaquim Barbosa, being destroyed. “


Posted on April 23, 2009 by arlesophia


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