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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Landmark Ruling Finds Judge Guilty

Yelena Pavlovich, a mother of two in Magadan, accused a judge of accepting bribes from relatives of her estranged husband in an emotional outburst in civil court -- and wound up behind bars for more than two years waiting to go on trial on slander charges.

What's even more amazing, criminal lawyers and human rights activists say, is that the judge who locked up Pavlovich has been found guilty of illegal confinement -- an unprecedented verdict against a court official. Previously, judges have only been convicted of bribe-taking or crimes unrelated to their work.

"We criticize our court system for keeping a person in custody and allowing cases to drag on for months and years without any merit. I've never heard before about a judge being held responsible for doing that," said Karina Moskalenko, a human rights lawyer.

"The decision could become a very useful precedent," she said. "Judges will see an example of what might happen if they ignore a defendant's rights, as they do now in almost all Russian courts."

Moskalenko knows all too well what she is talking about. She took a case similar to Pavlovich's to the European Court of Human Rights last summer -- and won. She represented Valery Kalashnikov, a Magadan banker who spent four years in pretrial detention before being convicted of embezzlement in 1999 and freed under an amnesty the next year. The European court ruled last July that the four-year detention violated guarantees in the European Convention on Human Rights that hearings and trials be held "within a reasonable time." It also found that Kalashnikov had suffered "degrading" conditions in prison -- the plaintiff complained of cockroaches, a lack of ventilation and of sharing an eight-bed cell with 24 prisoners -- and ordered the Russian government to pay damages of about $8,000.

Pavlovich was detained in 1995 when she failed to show up in court to face a slander charge stemming from her outburst. Pavlovich called the female judge a bribe-taker when the court decided to strip her of her parental rights. The judge sided with Pavlovich's husband, who had called his wife an alcoholic and "a tramp" in court papers.

After 29 months in jail, Pavlovich was released under a 1998 amnesty. She sued the Magadan city court judge who had ordered her detainment, Vasily Maximenko, and won last summer. Maximenko was given a three-year suspended sentence.

The appeals board of the Supreme Court upheld the verdict late last month, ruling that Maximenko broke the law by jailing Pavlovich when she didn't show up in court and when he failed to quickly bring her to trial, Supreme Court spokesman Pavel Odintsov said.

Maximenko testified in his defense that he had had about 200 cases in progress and not enough time to consider them all, the Kommersant newspaper reported.

Maximenko was also found guilty of illegally ordering the release of another defendant, Magomed Aushev, who was charged with selling precious metals on the black market, Kommersant said.

While on vacation in the middle of the 1997 trial, Maximenko signed papers releasing Aushev and did not notify the prosecutor in the case, the newspaper said. Aushev was put back behind bars after the prosecutor lodged a complaint.

Sergei Belyak, a criminal lawyer who is defending writer Eduard Limonov in his ongoing trial in Saratov, welcomed the Supreme Court decision, calling it "a revolutionary precedent" that might help encourage judges to act more professionally.

"I can only applaud this verdict," Belyak said. "It is good to know that people can be brought to justice regardless of their post or rank."