Interview with a Former Judge Ana Ghelekva  - A Choice Requiring a Career Sacrifice

After ten years of working as a judge, Anna Ghelekva started from square one, on another continent.

Transitioning from judiciary to the daily life of a fledgling immigrant was not her choice. Ana Gelekhva was ostracized from the judicial system by the “the clan”.  In this interview, it will be apparent, how and why.

- Tell us about yourself. As far as we are aware, you currently reside in the USA. What is your occupation as of this moment and what led to this choice?

- Yes, I have emigrated, and my current job has nothing to do with my profession. I work here, like all newly arrived immigrants. I am learning English now.

I understand and realize that our country is in such a state that our citizens do not have the luxury to choose in favor of our well-being. We all must try to change things for the better, even simply by staying in our profession.

But I could not see myself there anymore. I did not have the strength, nor saw an opportunity to fight for a better future.

- How did you become a judge? Did you go through the previous career stages in the court?

- I was a judge from 2006 to 2016. I have spent a large part of my life in different courts. I was a secretary of the session, a specialist of the chancellery, an assistant to a judge, and then a judge.

- In which area were you specialized? In what direction did you pass the judicial exam?

- I have always worked in the field of civil law.

- Did you have an opportunity for professional growth in judiciary? For example, what did the judicial system do for your professional development?

- Of course, many resources have been spent on the professional development of each judge of the court. With the help of those partners whom they currently talk to with a reproaching tone.

When you are appointed as a judge, although you have already passed a career path to get there, I still think that you are not ready to be a judge from the very beginning. It takes time and the accumulation of experience in this position.

Many seminars were held for professional development. We also raised our qualifications from time to time.

- Is participation in these training, qualification-raising activities voluntary or mandatory part of the profession?

- Voluntary. I do not know if anything has changed now.

- Were there judges around you who were involved in such events based on personal interest and then were excluded from the system? I don't just mean emigration. Change of profession, for example.

- Everyone has participated in various events to increase qualification, but this was not taken into account during the appointment. The main criterion was loyalty to them. I was told this directly.

- Who told you and when?

- When they did not appoint me, I asked for a meeting with the secretary of the Council [HCoJ]. Murusidze held the position at that time and I asked him why?
Why not take so many years of selfless work into account?He answered me very directly and frankly: because you did not stand by us during the election of our candidate as a member of the Council.
I asked, how it is an election if I did not act of my own volition? He answered: what should we tell those who supported us? - What will be their motivation for supporting us in the future? He did not hide this narrative at all.

- What kind of support did he talk about?

- [Judge] Levan Tevzadze was elected as a member of the High Council of Justice. Nino Gvenetadze nominated Gasitashvili as the second candidate.

At the time I thought that something would change for the good, but now I realize that nothing would change in any case, even if Gvenetadze's candidate advanced. Radical changes need political will.

Sometimes I think if they had fully understood what a strong and independent judiciary means, how would they allow such a thing? Why would they not take care of trust towards the judiciary?!
- The voting is done by a secret ballot, isn’t it? Did Murusidze know that you did not support Levan Tevzadze?

- Do you know how it was done? Looking back, this was also very wrong. Both sides were making preliminary lists, can you imagine?

My friend, a judge called me and asked who I supported. I told Gasitashvili. So I found myself on the list of Gasitashvili's supporters. 

Then judge Levan Tevzadze came to work with me. They did it like that - they had an election campaign. I also told him that we should give a chance to new people. I understand that this was very naive on my part, but at that time I believed so.

I remember very well the words of Levan Tevzadze when saying goodbye: You’ll vote for me and I’ll vote for you.
- It is clear. You had announced support for Gasitashvili's candidacy in advance and they relied on it. Did other judges on the list of supporters of this candidate also have problems?

- They knew who was voting for whom. I do not know the stories of others, but the majority of [judges] turned out to be "flexible". Some refer to themselves as such and I simply borrowed their term.

- So when Levan Tevzadze came to you and disapproved of your choice, if you expressed that you regretted it and are ready for future cooperation, would you still be a judge?

- No, there was no such thing. They do not act so directly. He did not complain about anything, nor did he ask who to vote for. They are very smart, they know the rules and criminal law very well. They act softly.

- Did Murusidze easily agree to the meeting? Is he sociable with judges?

- Yes, easily. To me, he seemed very sincere. It seemed that he did not want me to stay outside of the judiciary, but there was no other way. I got such an impression. He Laves the impression of being very open and sincere in the relationship.

- You mentioned that they know Criminal Law well. In what context should we interpret this?

- They will not allow a move that will create elements of a crime. It is soft and effective power. They know exactly how to act.

- You met Murusidze after you were not appointed. What impression do you have - if they confirmed your loyalty and you repented for supporting the "wrong" candidate, would they give you a second chance?

- No.

- So it seemed that the decision was made and despite the polite tone, nothing would change? Was this decision made specifically by Levan Murusidze or the circle of individuals? You said that he bemoaned you staying outside of the court?

- From the conversation, it seemed, that it was not his decision.

- During your ten-year judicial practice, you have experience working under two political authorities. At this moment, without much thought, Do you remember any significant differences between them in the context of your work?

- Nothing of note.

- You mentioned that your choice at the conference of judges was conditioned by the hope of changes and innovations in the system. What changes did you expect? What would be a sign to you that shifts for the better in the system have begun?

- At least if there was a competitive environment during the election of the Council [HCoJ] members at the conference of judges. Real elections with the participation of several genuine and motivated candidates.

- If I understand correctly after the so-called “clan” gained power, you were no longer allowed to work [to be reappointed] as a judge, but we still ask you: you worked in Kutaisi. Clearly, the clan cannot control all the judges from the capital throughout the country. Can we assume that they have trusted individuals on sites? People who ensured that their decisions were done in practice?

- "Clan" is such an apt word. I think they do not even protest it. If there is a clan, the head of the court (the chairman of the court) will also be a member of the clan - a close person, a trusted and reliable individual.

- Was there such in Kutaisi?

- Last time I worked in Samtredia. I remember the meeting was held every Monday in Kutaisi. It was a meeting with individual judges and not a joint discussion. It was more akin to separately discussing cases

- Were they talking about the content of the cases at these face-to-face meetings?

- Yes.

- There were such cases with you too? After all, the chairmen of the court mostly have bureaucratic and managerial functions and do not interfere with the content of the case of another judge.

- I don't want to talk about cases.

- Obviously, this is your right. We just want to make it clear, do you confirm that the chairman discussed the content of the cases at the face-to-face meetings?

- Yes.

- You now live the life of a fledgling immigrant in the United States. What is the reaction of people, even employers, when they hear that you have ten years of experience as a judge?

- I do not present myself directly with my professional background to anyone, but when I told my employer after some time, they were very surprised.

- From your point of view, from a geographical and professional distance, what choice do the remaining judges have?

- There are many worthy judges in Georgia and this makes me very happy. In my opinion, the main thing is overcoming fear. I understand that it is difficult for a judge to move to another sphere, even as a lawyer. It's a completely different specification, it requires different skills - dealing with a client, for example. But sometimes for personal development, it is worth getting out of the comfort zone and starting all over again.

- Are you considering returning to the profession?

- I do not even consider it at this point.

- I mean working as a judge in Georgia.

- If something radically changes, why not?!


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Irakli Absandze