JUDr. Josef Baxa

* 1959

  • “These two very interesting men, or grandpas might I say, came to see me back then. One of them was Pavel Eneš, an old-school guy, in a suit, wearing a tie, very neat, polite, wearing a hat. He came knocking on my door, I never met him before, and said: 'I read in the newspaper that there will be court clearances. And I know, I had been working at the District State Archive for my whole life, so I had this idea, as now I am retired, that I could help you with finding all those files. As it isn't in perfect order and I know my way around the archives.' So I employed him. And the second one, after two weeks, another granddad came, I am sure that his name is well known: general Antonín Husník. He came due to the same reason: 'I heard there will be clearances, you know? I was in prison during the Protectorate already and then in the 50s. I knew many of those inmates and they have been scattered across the world and you would have to deliver them the decisions somehow. So I could be getting their addresses for you, as I am in contact with my old friends.' So we employed him as well. And with the help of those two gentlemen we were processing the clearances. Back then I found that a crucial thing justice could do to at least somehow redeem what it was involved in during the previous decades. They helped us and brought us original convicts and you could see that even when they came to the building of the court after decades they were still uneasy, afraid, as the last memory they had of that building was when they had been taken from there to some prison. And they were looking around and waiting to find out that it was just a dream, that they would get caught again. And then they got this court decision that was – there was not the other way, unfortunately, as there were so many cases, so just those form decisions were issued: 'Is involved in the clearance... according to paragraph... sentence has been revoked.' That's a well known fact. But they took it as it was. I remember one of them, Jan Prokop. That was my first decision regarding a clearance. The law came into effect on July 1st this document was dated July 2nd or July 3rd. And back then he was in this group of our retired airmen. President Havel sent them to England on a plane, for the first time in summer of 1990. And he said: 'I will take this decision with me so I could show them, so they would believe that freedom prevailed in our country and from now on everything will be different.' And he considered it almost a holy relic of sorts. For those people it was – even though it was our job – it was very important, and to speak with them was also important and to add a few more paragraphs to the document that were not necessary, formally, according to the law. But it gave them a moral boost, even though it came after whole decades. And it transformed me as a judge when I saw how those people were treated. I understood that as a judge I had to be extremely sensitive to things like that in case that this threat would reemerge."

  • “Then the clearance law was passed, that came into force on July 1st 1990, and I could access all the files as I was a judge in those clearance cases. It wasn't just me, but I would say that I was a decisive force in that process. Cases from the late 40s, from the 50s, from the District Court in Pilsen (Plzeň), special people's courts, the state court, then again the district court in Pilsen, all that political stuff. There were hundreds of cases involving people who were still alive, who were facing the court as people to be granted a clearance. And there were even cases involving people still being active at the court. So in one case, as witnesses, I interrogated Adam Pittner, the former president of the Pilsen district court, who held his office for thirty years, and Lumdila Brožová-Polednová, the infamous public prosecutor, who participated on a show trial. It was a miracle that not only the files from the court survived but there were even the State security investigation files and the operational files where you could find those detailed scripts of how the trial had to be staged. How the people's court would be appointed. Long before the case came to the court it was all arranged, and materials were made stating how it would all happen. And that was how it went. So later on I interrogated those important personas as witnesses, the president of the court and the prosecutor, and I expected some kind of self-reflection or just some humane explanation of their behavior. There was no such a thing. 'I don't remember.' Nothing, nothing at all. And that was in the mid 90s, they weren't ninety years old, they were healthy people, still in their prime maybe. They should have been held responsible back then, it should have happened. Unfortunately, it didn't.”

  • “This was one of my first cases as I became a judge at the turn of 1984 and 1985. It went quickly back then, you didn't have to wait for years or even months for a decision. So I decided in January or in February maybe, in the beginning of 1985. And why did I get this case? Because as far as the law went it was just an ordinary disorderly conduct case. So I had to deal with it. And no one told me in advance: 'Be careful, this case is quite important!' Not at all. But I knew what was going on as one of the witnesses had been working as a boiler-man at the District Court in Pilsen (Plzeň) and we were bound by this love of music, beat music, so we would chat from time to time. And when I saw that he was a witness in that case I thought: 'Well, that wouldn't be just some kind of drunken incident in the middle of the night, that must have been something else.” - “So could you please tell us what was the case?” - “The case was that those two men, Charter 77 petitioners in fact – but I didn't know that back then when I got the case – organised... in Pilsen (Plzeň) there was this establishment at the Republic Square called Hi-Fi Club, a unique place with high-tech audio equipment, where you could hear records that were not available to the general public, so the joint was frequented by audiophiles who talked about music and so on. And from time to time there was even something else going on. Like this case when those gentlemen, Líbal and Chromý, took part in this stage performance based on Joe's Garage by Frank Zappa. And at one moment they appeared on the stage mostly naked during the performance. They were equipped by those gun-like stage properties and they were posing like they were routing for peace. But it was evident that there were more things going on during the performance that were not in accordance with the regime's worldview. And also the people who took part in this thing... So the State Security focused on this issue and at first they wanted to charge them with something much more serious. But as they couldn't get enough witnesses who would support their action it ended up as 'just a regular disorderly conduct'. The case had quite a coverage and the public took quite an interest in it, the court hall was crowded with their genuine friends and fans, their supporters, not just with this 'organized public', there was the whole Pilsen underground scene, and many of those people also testified. And the prosecution case was in fact just falling apart. The Security had been able to produce some wittnesses who were trying to state how much they were offended, as they perceived that as an indecency, something that didn't belong to such a place and so on. Even Božena Medková, who was the prosecutor at that time, gave this passionate speech that they should be condemned. And after I had interrogated the witnesses, I came to the conclusion that this wasn't a case that should be brought to a court or that had to do something with the criminal law. As the issue of whether you liked something or you didn't, that was a thing that should be addressed by, let's say, an art critic, but when they tried to make a criminal cause of it, that was just absurd. So I dismissed all charges against them, and at that moment I realized what was going on as the prosecutor ran out of the hall and she went to complain to her boss – Karel Anděl, who was a municipal prosecutor. As the court was in the same building, even at the same floor as the prosecutor's office. And in no time, before I got out of the court hall, the prosecutor went running to complain to the district court president about what I had done.”

  • “That's how it had happened. I went to see him – we had a strictly business relationship, as when I was invited with others, always in the company of the Constitutional Court president, Supreme Court president or supreme public prosecutor. I met him several times under those circumstances, like when the president wanted to consult the selection of constitutional court judges. Besides that I didn't seek the president's company, he visited the court once and he invited himself so to speak. He visited the courts in Brno, so he also visited the Supreme Administrative Court. The only instance when I asked him to hear me out was near the end of my term in office. I wrote him a letter in which I explained him the powers he would possess in half a year, and as I was personally responsible for the court and I got to know all the judges so I had maybe the most reliable info about them, I offered him to share this knowledge with him so he could perform his powers. He agreed to see me, but he wasn't interested much in this. On the contrary, he produced a list of my so-called sins. Series of cases that were decided at the Supreme Administrative Court in the past and the president made clear he didn't like those decisions. When I objected that I had nothing to do with this, as the judges were independent and I didn't decide any of those cases, he just stated that I was the boss and it was up to me to take care of things like that. That wasn't the end. After that, he told me several times that he could imagine me being the next president of the Constitutional Court. And at the same time he started to talk about a case that we were just deciding, it was the case when he refused to nominate some senior lecturers as professors. And he made it clear how we should decide, and he told me once again that he could imagine me as the next president of the Constitutional Court. The message was clear. I told him that this wasn't the reason why I came to see him, and we changed the subject. But it was quite an appealing experience and also a great disappointment.”

  • Full recordings
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    Praha, 10.06.2019

    duration: 02:07:56
    media recorded in project Stories of the 20th Century TV
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    Praha, 01.07.2019

    duration: 01:39:36
    media recorded in project Stories of the 20th Century TV
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    Praha, 08.07.2019

    duration: 58:00
    media recorded in project Stories of the 20th Century TV
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A judge has to protect his independent decision making

Josef Baxa was born on December 31st, 1959 in Klatovy and grew up in the nearby village of Libákovice. Both his parents came from families of farmers, however, his father, Josef Baxa, was a professional soldier and till 1969 also a Communist party member. His mother worked at a local agricultural coop. Josef Baxa graduated from the Faculty of Law, Charles University in Prague (Praha). During his one-year compulsory military service he was involved in a case of three officers who were bullying conscripted soldiers. Thanks to his contribution, those people were sentenced. In 1984 he started to work as a penal judge at the District Court in Pilsen (Plzeň). One of the first cases he dealt with was the case of Vladimír Líbal and Heřman Chromý who were charged with disorderly conduct as they were exposing themselves during an artistic performance and were acquitted by judge Baxa. In February 1988 he was a Communist party membership candidate but in the end he didn’t join the party. In 1989 he started to work at the District Court in Pilsen (Plzeň), where he had been involved in court clearance processes after 1990. At the same time he was one of the founders of the Faculty of Law, University of West Bohemia. In 1998 he was an intern at the Supreme Court presided by Otokar Motejl with whom he later came to the Ministry of Justice where Otakar Motejl, now a justice minister, tried to carry out the justice reform. Josef Baxa served as his first undersecretary and after Motejl had left the office he served as an undersecretary for his successors, Jaroslav Bureš and Pavel Rychtský. In 2003 he was one of the founders of the Supreme Administrative Court and served as its first president. In 2009 he was nominated Lawyer of the Year in administrative law. His presidency ended in 2018, after that he has been serving as a regular Supreme Administrative Court judge. In 2019 he announced that president Miloš Zeman tried to influence the Supreme Administrative Court decisions.