Port of Tallinn case lawyers seek removal of 'biased' judge

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Paul Keres, one of the two lawyers seeking the removal of a judge from the Port of Tallinn trial. Source: ERR

Two lawyers representing a defendant in a corruption trial are seeking the removal of the judge in the long-running case.

The lawyers, Paul Keres and Andri Rohtla, had already recently been fined by Harju County Court for non-attendance of a hearing on April 27. The pair say that coronavirus risks were their main concern and motivation in the incident.

Paul Keres said Tuesday that the court is biased, a situation unlikely to change as long as Kristina Valiste and two assistant judges,  Vladimir Simagin and Peeter Kaasik, whose removal the lawyers are also seeking, are sitting.

Tuesday's session had to be abandoned as a result of the petition Keres and Rohtla filed, while other lawyers present also supported their motion, BNS reports.

A new date for Tuesday's hearing is to be set later.

The pair were fined €1,600 late last week, while their client, Ain Kaljurand, a defendant in the Port of Tallinn (Tallinna Sadam) corruption case, was let off with a warning.

Public Prosecutor Denis Tšasovskih and North District Prosecutor Kristo Adosson both found the petition for the removal of Valiste unjustifiable.

The court order and fine issued last week necessarily biases the court against him, Keres says, and: "Contravenes the code of ethics of Estonian judges and leaves the lawyer no choice,  in the context of Supreme Court case law, but to submit a petition of challenge."

Article 25 of the judges' code of ethics also calls for a judge to voluntarily step down from a case should their impartiality be endangered.

Keres said the Supreme Court found even the slightest hint of potential bias was valid reason for a judge to leave a case.

The court called for a break Tuesday to get an opinion on the petition of challenge from those attorneys who were not present in the courtroom, BNS reports.

Keres and Rohtla had demanded a larger courtroom than the one regularly used in the Port of Tallinn hearings, citing coronavirus concerns.

While the court said that this was neither economically viable nor required by the relevant authority – the Health Board (Terviseamet) – it has on some days held the hearings in the largest chamber available at the courthouse, on Lubja street in Tallinn, when this was possible, BNS reports.

In 2020, Keres was joined by several other lawyers in calling for the removal of Denis Tšasovskih, and another prosecutor, Laura Feldmanis, from the case.

The case itself dates back to 2017 and originally saw former Port of Tallinn managers Alan Kiil, Ain Kaljurand, and Martin Paide declared suspects, with Kiil and Kaljurand charged with the large-scale accepting of bribes and money laundering activities, over the period 2005-2015, Paide primarily with facilitating the activities.

Allan Kiil's trial was wound up last autumn, on health grounds.

The Port of Tallinn is a state-controlled authority, though shares were floated on the stock market in 2018. It is responsible not only for Tallinn's ports - primarily the ferry and cruise harbor in central Tallinn and the cargo port at Kopli - but also those of Muuga, to the east of the capital, and Paldiski, to the west.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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