Ricardo Lewandowski: Brazil’s Rising Chief Justice

July 25, 2014

Shannon Sims – OZY, 7/25/2014

A chance encounter sometimes makes history.

Like when lawyer Ricardo Lewandowski’s mom invited his good childhood friend Laerte Demarchi to lunch in the early 1990s.

“I told her I already had plans, that I was meeting a union organizer at my dad’s restaurant,” Demarchi recalls. “She said to bring him over, too.”

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Brazil’s leading anti-corruption Justice announces he is stepping down

July 2, 2014

MercoPress, 6/30/2014

“He came to say goodbye, given that he will retire next month,” Renan Calheiros told reporters after a private meeting with the jurist. “It was a surprise and we’re very sorry, since he’s one of the best models the country has,” the senator added.

The chief justice met earlier Thursday with President Dilma Rousseff to inform her of his decision.

Barbosa, 59, was the first black jurist to head Brazil’s Supreme Court, elected by his 10 fellow justices in October 2012.

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What is Brazil’s “mensalão”?

November 19, 2013

The Economist,  11/18/2013

NOVEMBER 15th is a big date in Brazilian history books: on that day in 1889 a military coup overthrew emperor Dom Pedro II and established Brazil as a republic. This year it was significant for another reason. Despite the national holiday the president of the supreme court, Joaquim Barbosa, stayed at his desk and wrote warrants for the arrest of 12 of those convicted last year in the so-called “mensalão” case, several of them high-profile politicians with close links to the government. Eleven spent the weekend in jail; a 12th turned out to have fled to Italy several weeks before. But just what was the mensalão?

The word, a Portuguese neologism roughly meaning “big monthly stipend” was coined to describe clandestine payments made by the Workers’ Party (PT), which won the presidency in 2003, to congressional allies in return for support for its legislative agenda. The scandal broke in 2005 when the president of an allied party claimed in a newspaper interview that the PT was paying several congressmen 30,000 reais a month (around $12,000 at the time). The money was said to have come from the public purse via fake advertising contracts signed by state-owned companies with corrupt advertising firms. The scandal was one of many that broke in quick succession, with others involving allegations that the state-run postal system had accepted bribes for contracts and that the PT had been extorting money from illegal-betting rings in Rio de Janeiro. Overlapping congressional inquiries ended up accusing 18 congressmen of involvement in the vote-buying scheme. The biggest name among them was José Dirceu (pictured right), who had been chief of staff to the president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, until forced by the scandal to step down.

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A blunt chief justice unafraid to upset Brazil’s status quo

August 29, 2013

Simon Romero – The New York Times, 08/23/2013

Brazil’s highest court has long viewed itself as a bastion of manners and formality. Justices call one another “Your Excellency,” dress in billowing robes and wrap each utterance in grandiloquence, as if little had changed from the era when marquises and dukes held sway from their vast plantations.

But when the chief justice, Joaquim Barbosa, strides into the court, the other 10 excellencies brace themselves for whatever may come next.

In one televised feud, Mr. Barbosa questioned another justice about whether he would even be on the court had he not been appointed by his cousin, a former president impeached in 1992. With another justice, Mr. Barbosa rebuked him over what the chief justice considered his condescending tone, telling him he was not his “capanga,” a term describing a hired thug.

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Brazil’s top Justice suggests trimming the influence of political parties and an end to cupola deals

June 26, 2013

Merco Press, 06/26/2013

“Brazil is going through a crisis of representativeness and legitimacy and is fed up with cupola reforms” said Justice Barbosa. “Look at Brazil’s history, all crucial moments of our history had cupola solutions. Independence was a collusion between the Portuguese and Brazilian elites. When the Republic the people was left out completely of the November 15 deal, without having a clue of what was going on”

Justice Barbosa talked with the press on Tuesday afternoon following a meeting with President Dilma Rousseff who invited him to the Planalto Palace to discuss the protests that have taken over the streets of more than a hundred Brazilian cities in demonstrations self-organized, peaceful and with clear objectives.

Although the Justice that has been identified by protestors as their reference because of his proven honesty and transparency (a rare quality in Brazilian politics and the three government branches) he did not say if he agreed with convening or not a constitutional assembly to implement political reforms. However he does support consulting the people on issues as those currently in the political agenda.

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Brazilian court council removes a barrier to same-sex marriage

May 16, 2013

Simon Romero – The New York Times, 05/14/2013

The council overseeing Brazil’s judiciary ruled on Tuesday that notary publics cannot refuse to performsame-sex marriage ceremonies, a decision that opens the way for gay couples across Latin America’s largest country to marry.

The move by the National Council of Justice, a 15-member panel led by Joaquim Barbosa, the chief justice of the nation’s high court, effectively legalizes gay marriage throughout Brazil, legal scholars here said. The decision follows legislation in twoneighboring countries, Argentina and Uruguay, where lawmakers have managed to pass bills authorizing same-sex marriage nationwide in recent years.

Still, there is some room for judicial appeals of the Brazilian decision, potentially within the high court, the Supreme Federal Tribunal, and resistance may emerge in Congress, where gay-marriage legislation has faced opposition from an influential bloc of evangelical Christian lawmakers. Even so, supporters of same-sex marriage described the council’s decision as pioneering.

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First black court chief confronts corruption in Brazil

December 21, 2012

Raymond Colit, Arnaldo Galvao – Bloomberg, 12/20/2012

Joaquim Barbosa once pored over law tomes while working nights as a typesetter to pay for college. Now he is rewriting them — and the history books as well — as the first black chief justice of Brazil’s Supreme Court and the presiding judge in a landmark corruption case.

Barbosa, 58, rocketed to celebrity for his role in a trial that convicted close aides of former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who appointed him to the top court in 2003. In a country where few politicians are ever tried for corruption and virtually none go to jail, Barbosa led the way in arguing that Lula’s aides stole public money, used it to bribe lawmakers and should be punished with lengthy prison terms.

The son of a brick-layer and a cleaning lady, Barbosa overcame racial prejudices to galvanize sentiment for cleaner politics. While non-whites make up more than half of Brazil’s population, they hold only 8 percent of seats in Congress and earn half as much as whites, according to the statistics agency.

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