Tue | Jan 22, 2019

Renowned judge returns confidence in rule of law

Published:Thursday | December 17, 2015 | 12:00 AM
Judge Miguel Angel Galvez (second right) is led by a bodyguard as he is surrounded by journalists when he arrives to a hearing against Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina in Guatemala City.
In this August 2015 photo, Miguel Angel Galvez listens to a lawyer during former Guatemalan Vice-President Roxana Baldetti’s hearing at a courtroom in Guatemala City.

GUATEMALA CITY (AP):Miguel Angel Galvez is the judge who jailed a president in this Central American country where the legal system has long been seen as for sale to the rich and powerful.

At the end of a year of unprecedented graft investigations that landed both President Otto Pérez Molina and his vice-president behind bars, Galvez has helped restore some public confidence in the rule of law and raised hopes that Guatemala can get to grips with entrenched corruption.

"People come to me and present complaints. They give me first and last names, that means people are starting to have faith," Galvez said.

Months after one of his fellow magistrates was charged with accepting bribes from defendants in a corruption case she was hearing, Galvez has earned the nickname 'The Honourable Judge.'

Peoples hail him on the street and offer a quick embrace of thanks. "My dear judge, you are an example," said a man who approached Galvez while he was sipping coffee in a restaurant.

Even 11-year-olds know him: A classmate of Galvez's son recently asked the judge if he is the one who sends corrupt people to prison.

Galvez is seen as quiet, patient and discreet, but a judge who runs his courtroom with authority. He often takes hours to explain rulings, saying defendants and society need to understand the judgments clearly.

He rises early, spends long hours at the office and unwinds by taking long bike rides. "It's my way of relieving stress," he says.

In 16 years on the bench, Galvez has heard cases involving drug trafficking, murder, corruption and massacres of indigenous people during Guatemala's 1960-96 civil war. He was the judge who ordered detention for former dictator Efrain Rios Montt, who faces a genocide trial in January, a move that attracted death threats, judicial complaints against him and bribery attempts.