February 20, 2010

Judicial Corruption and What Can be Done About It

The judicial system in this country is one of the most corrupt segments of society. Yet, I have never heard of a judge being arrested or charged with corruption.

This is even when it is abundantly clear that the judge was influenced in rendering a decision. If these magistrates were “massaging” the law in an effort to be fairer than the law is, this would be legislating from the bench which is still wrong but certainly more tolerable. But fairness has nothing to do with it.

Technically, judges are independent from the government and judges seem to take this independence quite literally. They are also independent from the law; independent from the facts; and independent from any semblance of ethics or propriety.

I asked an official in the ministry of justice why it was that despite the recent anti-corruption drive in the country, no judge had ever been charged with corruption. He explained that corruption was very difficult to prove since the judge could always justify his decision by stating is was judicial error. The most the government can do is to transfer them to a less desirable court or, in very rare cases, revoke them. Basically, incompetence is a judge’s best defense.

Because there is no fear of real sanctions, most judges are not afraid to render blatantly wrong decisions. The attraction of the bribe, which amounts in many cases to more than the judge can earn in an entire career, is much more potent than the fear of being transferred to some remote town where they will be handling disputes over goats.

In fact, the amount a judge was bribed in a case is often an open secret. My father died about a year and a half ago and as in most inheritance situations, siblings have been battling each other in court. One of them convinced a judge to order a marriage certificate to be drawn up for his mother, after getting the judge to order a birth certificate be issued to him. So after my Dad died, he mysteriously reemerged to have a 50 year old son and to get married. The marriage certificate clearly states:

On this day ….[3 months after my Dad died] Before us, appeared publicly….

The judge signed and certified the birth and marriage certificates. Some of my siblings who heard about this immediately petitioned the court to have the order nullified. Unfortunately for them, they ended up before the same judge who of course, stuck to his guns. This case created enough scandal that the judge was sanctioned pretty quickly. Although he was not transferred, he was sent cases of no significance. This meant that his bribe income dropped significantly. He complained to whoever would listen that he had jeopardized his career and had only received less than $3,000 for that court order and now realized it was not worth it.

In another case, a different sibling was able to get access to a bank account that held more than $2 million in it. In this case, he went judge shopping which is always a risk because the judge that doesn’t get the deal will spread the word. He first went to the only judge that had territorial jurisdiction over the matter. We don’t know all the details but the arrangement broke down and the sibling moved to another judge in another court. This judge, who was outside of the proper jurisdiction, requested about $20,000 to sign the court order. My sibling borrowed funds and came up with a $4,000 deposit, promising the rest when the order was signed. Days turned to weeks, and the order was still not signed. Eventually, the sibling realized that the judge had no intention of ever signing. He couldn’t very well ask for a refund.

He then found a judge, again who was completely outside the jurisdiction. Imagine a New York court having jurisdiction but you manage to get a Washington, DC judge to sign your order. This judge unfortunately was much more expensive but he came with a guarantee. He would get the President of the Court of Appeals of his jurisdiction in on the deal which would ensure that the decision would not be overturned. For that, he would require $80,000. After much negotiation, they agreed the judge would be paid when the funds were released from the bank. $80,000 to get $2 million seems like quite a deal.

Another sibling (the one with the birth and marriage certificate) filed criminal charges and tried to get his brother arrested. He paid about $16,000 for that arrest. The sibling who was arrested was later released pending the rest of the investigation. Since he had not been able to spend all of the $2 million before getting caught, there is still over $1 million blocked. Recently, he received a call from a government official offering to have the funds released and his case closed for a mere $40,000.

What I find truly remarkable is that I don’t see or speak to either of these siblings and received none of this information from them. I only know the details because they are just not a secret. These details are out in the public domain. I could go tell officials in the ministry of justice but I might just end up with the one who offered to fix everything for $40,000.

Besides, I will get the same response. Even though they know that corruption was involved, this is impossible to prove. Unlike in the US or Europe were you could talk about wire fraud and follow the money trail through various front companies and financial institutions, we live in a cash society. Unless any of them got a receipt for the money they gave these judges, the cash will be difficult to trace.

Not all judges are corrupt but the honest ones are becoming more and more frustrated. I have a friend who is a judge. He has never been involved in any of my cases but I often go talk to him because he always has good advice. I remember the first time I went to see him I was in tears because my case had been dragging on for so long it was going to bankrupt my company. His advice was to try to find a way to take the case outside of the country! Usually though, he is quite supportive and encourages me to persevere.

This last time, I spent two hours in his office trying to console him. He was discouraged, disgusted and even despondent over the state of the judiciary in the country. Judges he had always respected and admired were now involved in some of the most corrupt cases in the country. There was no incentive to be honest. No incentive to apply the law. In fact, judges who try to remain ethical are more and more ostracized by their colleagues.

This society is broken to its core. The lack of a fair judiciary impacts all segments of society. How do you enforce a patent for innovative technology you have developed? How do you enforce a contract? How do you obtain justice when victim of a physical crime?

For the last few years, I have been mulling about developing a software application for the judiciary. I know they won’t buy it but if I can build it and donate it, they won’t be able to refuse. This won’t stop corruption but it might help to bring more transparency to the system. For example, there would be systematic checks and balances in the system. Gone would be the judgments which are registered and executed before they are rendered (that has happened to me twice!). We could build a system that would be accessible to judicial authorities so that they could monitor cases from their desks instead of waiting for reports that might come too late. We could build in business intelligence that displays in charts and graphs how long cases are taking from beginning to end. The reporting could be by judge, by type of case, by jurisdiction, by lawyer, by party. This will not stop particular lawyers from always going to particular judges but at least this would more obvious.

Perhaps if God led a technology entrepreneur into the jowls of judicial corruption, He intended for me to do something about it. Perhaps God has nothing to do with it and I am still living in denial, hoping that the system can change, despite the evidence that it doesn’t want to. That’s the problem with entrepreneurs. Passion often overrides logic and leads to all sorts of justification for charging forward, blind to the reality around them. That is our greatest fault but it is also our greatest asset.

So I better start forging ahead with my judicial application…


  1. It would be an honor for me to be part of the development of such an application. Maybe it could help clear up the judicial system a little bit...

  2. Thanks Gabin! I very much appreciate the support. We are putting together a team right now so please do get in touch. Thanks again and look forward to your participation.

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