On 14 September 2021, the disciplinary section of the Superior Council of the Judiciary (CSM) suspended magistrates and former councilors Antonio Lepre, Gianluigi Morlini and Luigi Spina, and Corrado Cartoni and Paolo Criscuoli for nine months for one year and six months.
It is only the latest evolution of the “nomination scandal” that involved the CSM, the body that ensures the independence and self-government of the judiciary and that supervises the professional life of judges. The story broke out in May 2019, with the publication of some wiretapping of the telephone of judge Luca Palamara, a former member of the CSM and former president of the National Magistrates Association (Anm). Palamara had been intercepted because he was under investigation for corruption, but his conversations also revealed information on the ways in which the assignments in different judicial offices would be piloted.
The case of the piloted appointments emerged as a consequence of this investigation, after the wiretapping and chats ended up in newspapers and TV. The large amount of material, which is only partially relevant for criminal purposes, was leaked and made public in violation of the investigation secrecy.
Parallel to the criminal trial against Luca Palamara underway in Perugia, the CSM has instituted a series of disciplinary proceedings against the magistrates involved in its network of relationships.
Palamara was expelled from the judiciary on 9 October 2020. The motivation is that he illegally discussed and planned the appointment of the Rome prosecutor with subjects “completely unrelated” to the CSM.
The five judges suspended in September, who had resigned from the office of advisers in the summer of 2019, defended themselves by saying that they had never been subjected to external pressure and announced that they will challenge the decision.
The story of the piloted appointments
Before seeing what is one of the events at the center of the disciplinary investigations against them, it is necessary to take into account a fundamental point: since the sixties the judiciary has been divided into currents that refer to the different political-cultural areas of the country. These groups present themselves as lists in the elections of the organs of the category and then form alliances between them.
The disciplinary procedure against the five magistrates starts from the meeting, which took place on the evening of 8 May 2019 in a hotel in Rome, between Palamara, considered the head of the current unit center for the constitution, and the deputies of the Democratic Party Luca Lotti and Cosimo Ferri, today in Italy Viva. Ferri is a magistrate on leave and was a leading exponent of the independent judiciary, the conservative current of the National Magistrates Association (the representative body that groups Italian magistrates).
The topic of the meeting in the Roman hotel was the appointment of the chief prosecutor of the capital, after the retirement of Giuseppe Pignatone. At the end, the orientation to support the attorney general of Florence, Marcello Viola, belonging to the independent judiciary, had matured. A few days later, on May 23, 2019, Viola was the most voted in the commission for executive positions that had to identify the list of names to be presented to the CSM assembly.
The meeting was made public on 29 May 2019 by the newspapers la Repubblica and Corriere della Sera. From the chats and wiretapping published in the following months, the method by which the currents divided the appointments in the judicial offices emerged. The news of the Roman meeting blocked the appointment of Viola. The commission repeated the vote and on 4 March 2020 the CSM chose Michele Prestipino Giarritta, acting prosecutor and close collaborator of Pignatone as chief prosecutor.
However, in May 2021 on an appeal presented by Viola, the regional administrative court (TAR) of Lazio and then the Council of State canceled the appointment of Prestipino. In the coming months, the CSM will have to meet again to appoint the new head of the Roman prosecutor’s office.
In the meantime, the criminal trial for corruption against Palamara has begun in Perugia and the first hearing is set for 15 November. The accusation is that of having placed his role as magistrate at the disposal of the entrepreneur Fabrizio Centofanti (also under investigation) in exchange for travel, dinners and renovations.
Palamara, who is a candidate in the by-election in the Primavalle college in Rome on 3 and 4 October, has always denied having been bribed and does not want to be considered the only person responsible for the patronage system. However, he confirmed that the mechanism – of which he was one of the gears – was widespread and shared by all currents, as he explained in the interview book. The system (Rizzoli 2021).
Edited by Giulia Merlo, journalist of Domani