Regional judges take leave
December 14, 2022
Something unusual is happening with judges in Russia’s regions. Over the past two months, dozens of them have been quietly resigning. But no one seems to know why – and few are talking about it. 
It began in early October, when in regions like Samara and Omsk judges began submitting their letters of resignation to judicial nominating organs. By mid-November, groups of judges in several regions simultaneously quit their posts. Overall, Russia.Post was able to find media reports detailing the recent resignations of dozens of judges in the Bryansk, Voronezh, Ivanovo, Omsk, Saratov, and Samara regions, as well as in the Republic of Tatarstan. But why is this happening?

During an interview on Khodorkovsky Live, the Russian civil rights activist, Marina Litvinovich, argued that both the scale and timing of the judges’ resignations would suggest that their cause is likely the result of political dynamics at the national level rather than those occurring in the regions.

“We cannot say what the exact reason [of the resignations] is, but we do know what the general professional environment for judges has been like recently. Without a doubt, they face rather serious pressure from siloviki, above all from the FSB. And judges sometimes complain about this pressure… [and the demands] that certain legal decisions be made,” said Litvinovich.

She added that judges operate in an increasingly confusing legal environment in which many laws have stopped working, or are applied selectively. “Judges are sometimes forced to look the other way, and make decisions that violate the law. Working in constant legal uncertainty doesn’t seem easy. Besides that, of course, we have seen an increase in politicized cases, and now cases connected to the war. It’s more difficult for judges to make certain rulings.”

At the same time, the workload for judges in recent years has grown considerably, all the while long-enjoyed benefits, such as the provision of free housing from the state, have stopped working, according to Litvinovich. This, she argues, is having an effect on morale among judges.

But the resignations may also be connected to the government’s current demand for all types of government officials and essential workers in Ukrainian territories annexed by Russia in September.

During the All-Russian Congress of Judges in late November, Vladimir Putin called for the quick integration of the four annexed regions into Russia’s judicial system. Putin said that "a serious amount of work" still remains to be done for integrating the occupied territories’ courts, above all, the appointment of judges and providing the courts with new buildings.

“Now teachers, doctors, and many other professionals are being sent from Russia on long-term work trips [to newly annexed territories],” said Litvinovich, adding that “it's quite possible regions are sending teams… [of] judges to Kharkiv or Donetsk. Maybe this also was the reason behind the resignations.”

As journalists at Verstka wrote in early November, Moscow has faced difficulties with recruiting locals for positions in the occupational governments of annexed Ukrainian territory. Vacancies are often filled by people from Russia’s regions or local “defectors” who lack experience and qualifications. Many positions simply go unfilled. At the time of writing, journalists found that from the occupied regions, only bailiffs, treasury department administrations, and tax officials had been registered with Russia's Federal Tax Service, a requirement for all organizations according to Russian law.

Of course, recruiting scores of state officials even in normal circumstances takes time. Given the ongoing fighting and Moscow’s military losses in the annexed territories, the difficulties Russian authorities have faced in building up occupational governments and their personnel are unsurprising.

At least in the near term, the true cause (or causes) behind why so many judges in Russia are suddenly quitting remains murky. And judges rarely, if at all, go public following their own resignations.

Digest by Mack Tubridy for the Russia.Post editorial team.
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