Judges who help drunk drivers avoid responsibility without a reasonable basis are involved in corruption schemes

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Volodymyr Hryshko

Currently, a competition for the High Council of Justice is taking place, where the Ethics Council checks candidates for compliance with integrity requirements. Among the applicants and candidates for the HCJ, there are judges who like to cover up for drunk drivers and unjustifiably exempt them from responsibility. Such coverage of drunk drivers is part of a judicial corruption scheme.

The High Council of Justice is the only disciplinary body that can bring judges to disciplinary responsibility. The HCJ should consist of people of high integrity, in particular, judges who have not previously helped drunk drivers avoid punishment. After all, the HCJ receives many complaints about judges covering up for drunk drivers. DEJURE Foundation alone has filed about 100 complaints against judges for violations during the consideration of cases under Art. 130 of the Code of Administrative Offences, which provides for liability for drunk driving. Therefore, the members of the HCJ will certainly face the consideration of such cases. How would a member of the HCJ, who previously exempted drunk drivers from responsibility, consider a complaint against judges who acted the same way? The question is rhetorical.

It is unacceptable that the new composition of the HCJ includes individuals who previously indulged drunk drivers. We want to see Ukraine without dozens and hundreds of high-profile fatal road accidents per month or year. People should not be killed or maimed by drunks on the roads. And the latter should not be able to escape punishment for money and/or connections. Judges covering up for drunk drivers should have no place either in the HCJ or the judiciary.

Therefore, at present, it depends on the position of the Ethics Council whether such schemes will continue to exist. If the Ethics Council recognises that the use of such schemes is evidence of low integrity, it will deal a serious blow to such practices and may be the beginning of their end. If the Ethics Council turns a blind eye to such practices and does not recognise them as of low integrity, it will give them a new impetus and lead to even more sad consequences.

What is the problem of drunk driving in Ukraine?

According to statistics, drunk driving is the "record holder" among offences in Ukraine - every 6th offence is drunk driving. In addition, drunk driving cases reach almost ⅔ of the sum of all fines in Ukraine. What's more, drunk drivers often cause high-profile accidents.

In 2018, the head of the Department of Organizational Analytical Support and Operational Response of the National Police stated: "At the same time, the most large-scale and bloody road accidents are committed by drivers who were intoxicated. In the first six months of this year, over 2,000 accidents occurred due to the fault of drunk drivers, 349 of which resulted in casualties. The recklessness of such persons led to the death of 42 citizens and the injury of 446 people". Over time, the statistics did not improve: in 2020, 4,522 road accidents due to the fault of drunk drivers were recorded in Ukraine (1,554 people were injured, 103 died), and in the first half of 2021, 2,346 such road accidents were recorded (290 were injured, 63 died).

So, every year hundreds of people die and are injured due to drunk drivers on the roads.

What is the fault of judges, and how do they play along with drunk drivers?

Despite such bloody consequences, the courts do not bring to justice almost half (42%) of the drivers for whom the protocols for drunk driving have been drawn up. Although sometimes this is a consequence of improper preparation of protocols by law enforcement officers, a significant part of violators avoids responsibility due to the dubious actions of the judges.

DEJURE Foundation previously described four of the most notorious schemes used by judges to help drunk drivers avoid punishment. These schemes are as follows:
  1. Delays in consideration of administrative cases
  2. Denial that the driver was behind the wheel
  3. Handover of the violator on bail to the labour collective or the NGO
  4. Dropping the case due to low significance

Drivers who manage to "deal" with judges and avoid real responsibility usually continue to drive. And many fatal traffic accidents happened precisely after judges helped drivers avoid responsibility for drunk driving.

The High Council of Justice very often turns a blind eye to complaints about violations by judges when considering drunk driving cases. DEJURE Foundation analysed the practice of the HCJ and concluded that the absolute majority of judges avoid any punishment for detected violations. Even if the HCJ brings judges to justice, the punishments are usually clearly disproportionate and do not correspond to the severity of the violations.

Slobodsky's case

An example of the application of such schemes and the occurrence of tragic consequences is the case of Mykola Slobodskyi, the son of the famous businessman Ihor Slobodskyi. Previously, Mykola was twice caught drunk driving, but the judge did not revoke his driver's license. He caused a fatal accident on a BMW X5: the 28-year-old victim was burned alive. The grief-stricken father could not tell his eight-year-old daughter that her mother was gone. Most likely, if the judges had punished Slobodskyi and revoked his driver's license instead of using typical schemes to delay the case, this tragedy could have been avoided, and the girl would not have remained a semi-orphan.

The case of Kyiv City Council member Kostenko

In April 2020, in the centre of Kyiv, the patrol police pulled over a Mercedes because the headlights were off. Liudmyla Kostenko, a member of the Kyiv City Council, was behind the wheel, and the law enforcement officers suspected her of driving under the influence of alcohol. In addition, Volodymyr Slonchak, one of the deputies of mayor Vitaliy Klychko, who was riding next to Kostenko, stood up for her and beat the officer. Kostenko refused to take an alcohol test, which is why a corresponding protocol was drawn up for her. However, the judge of the Solomiansky District Court of Kyiv, Svitlana Horbatovska, sided with Kostenko and closed the case, handing her over to her company on bail. Thus, Kostenko managed to avoid responsibility.

The case of the DACK judge Marulina

Marulina's case is one of the most vivid examples of a judicial mutual cover-up. The patrol police officers pulled over the judge of the odious District Administrative Court of Kyiv Liubov Marulina in May 2020. According to the police, she was driving a Lexus and had signs of intoxication - slurred speech and the smell of alcohol. However, Marulina refused to take the test, so a protocol was drawn up for her. It is most likely that due to manipulations with the auto-distribution system, Marulina's case got to judge Tetyana Shchasna, who was loyal to her. The qualification of the case was changed in advance - from an administrative offence it turned into a juvenile case. And according to the auto-distribution report, Shchasna was the only one of the 18 Darnytskyi District Court of Kyiv judges who had "appropriate" qualifications. On the same day and in the same court, another case about drunk driving was considered - and as many as 12 judges were "available", not only Shchasna.

Marulina explained that the car was allegedly driven not by her personally but by her acquaintance. At some point, the headlights stopped working, so the women stopped, and Marulina allegedly got into the driver's seat after that - and it was at that moment that the patrol police officers noticed her. Judge Tetyana Shchasna easily agreed with such a statement and decided that Marulina was not driving the car that evening, so she completely acquitted Marulina.

And here is how the judicial mutual cover-up works. Back in 2019, a special commission recommended dismissing judge Shchasna for undeclared assets. However, she was not dismissed, and Shchasna successfully appealed the conclusion about her low integrity in the District Administrative Court of Kyiv. It was in the same court where Marulina works that her colleague, Ihor Pohribnichenko, settled Shchasna's lawsuit. It seems that judge Shchasna had to "thank" a colleague from the DACK for a previous favour.

Exemption of drunk drivers from responsibility is a judicial corruption scheme

Judges use schemes of "helping" drunk drivers not for free: the corruption risks are insane. The High Anti-Corruption Court has already passed a number of convictions with actual prison terms against four judges (the case against judges Minayev, Yushchuk, Tulyk* and Ponomarenko*) who helped drunk drivers avoid punishment for money.

* The verdicts against judges Tulyk and Ponomarenko were overturned in the Supreme Court - however, this happened in both cases solely on formal (and even, according to some experts, somewhat dubious) grounds. The Supreme Court overturned the verdicts only because, according to the judges, the Prosecutor's office submitted the guilty verdict after the investigation had expired. At the same time, there were no questions regarding the very fact of the offence (requesting/receiving a bribe) in the Supreme Court - thus, the corruption scheme was obvious.

Yushchuk's case is the "freshest" - on July 20, 2022, the High Anti-Corruption Court of Ukraine issued a guilty verdict and sentenced Oleh Yushchuk, a former judge from Volyn, to three years in prison. In December 2017, law enforcement officers filed a report against a local resident of Volyn for drunk driving. The case was being considered by judge Andrii Sivchuk, Yushchuk's colleague. Judge Oleh Yushchuk promised the violator to influence his colleague's decision and close the case so that the driver would avoid punishment; the price of the favour was $500. On March 15, 2018, Yuschuk informed the attorney about the need to hand over the bribe. And in 5 days, SAPO and NABU caught the judge "red-handed". 

It is interesting that at the end of 2020, the High Council of Justice, instead of dismissing judge Yuschuk, sent him to honourable retirement with a lifetime allowance. The High Council of Justice knew for sure that Yuschuk was caught "red-handed" when he was supposed to be given a bribe, and a criminal investigation was being conducted against him.

What conclusions can be drawn?

First, violations by judges when considering cases of drunk driving are widespread in Ukraine. This connivance of offenders leads to drunks keeping their driver's licenses and continuing to get behind the wheel while drunk. This, in turn, ends in tragic consequences: the killing and maiming of innocent people.

Second, judges who help offenders avoid responsibility are usually not brought to justice by a disciplinary body. Such a closed mutual cover-up only indulges corruption schemes and makes them even more massive. After all, unpunished evil does not disappear anywhere, it is only fueled and returns with even greater confidence in its impunity. 

Therefore, the Ethics Council should be aware of the importance of those corruption schemes by which judges exempt drunk drivers from responsibility. Such cases are a litmus test for corruption. The doors of the HCJ should be closed to judges of low integrity who are willing to risk the lives of their fellow citizens on the roads for a dollar bill. Otherwise, these corruption schemes will be legitimised, judges will massively use them for their own benefit, and drunks will continue to drive.