The Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA), a local watchdog, has labeled as “unlawful and politically motivated” the Tbilisi City Court’s sentencing of government-critical Mtavari Arkhi TV chief Nika Gvaramia, over abuse of power during his time as the director of Rustavi 2 TV.
The GYLA noted in a May 16 statement that the judge Lasha Chkhikvadze had a personal connection to the case through his childhood friend Zaza Gvelesiani, a witness in the case and the director of JSC Media Holding, a holding company of the Rustavi 2.
It said that the defense had appealed to have Chkhikvadze disqualified, presenting clear evidence that he and Gvelesiani continued to have “close communication during the proceedings,” but both remained in the case, as judge and witness respectively.
As the watchdog noted, the Georgian Judges’ Code of Ethics restricts a justice from communicating with anyone connected to an ongoing case until it is concluded.
While the code does not explicitly mandate the removal of a judge in such cases, the GYLA pointed out, it indicates that justice shall not partake in criminal proceedings if there is a reason to doubt their independence.
The judge did not recuse himself despite questions over his independence and impartiality being raised during the proceedings, the watchdog added.
The watchdog also highlighted problems with an irregular timeline of the court proceedings. It said that the judge held two sessions per week at times, and also granted Gvaramia three days to prepare concluding remarks instead of the one week the defense requested.
Against this backdrop, the GYLA said, the judge then delayed the final hearing for two months, without any explanation.
Also, by the time of the verdict on May 24, the 24-month-limit on case proceedings had been exceeded by about five months, the watchdog pointed out.
- Gov’t-Critical TV Chief Sentenced to 3.5 Years in Prison
- U.S. Questions Georgia’s Commitment to Rule of Law
- Khazaradze, Japaridze Jailed, but not Jailed