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8 de Febrero del 2022
Lectura: 17 minutos
8 de Febrero del 2022
Fermín Vaca Santacruz
Who is who among Ecuador´s nine Constitutional Court finalists

Referential image. Plan V

Five candidates have been qualified and are in the race to occupy three chairs in the plenary of the Constitutional Court, three of whose magistrates must be selected in early 2022. An important group of candidates belong to the circles of the Minister of Government, Alexandra Vela and the Legal Secretary of the Palace, Fabián Pozo.

In theory, any of the nine members of the Constitutional Court could leave office at the beginning of next year, since a selection is scheduled for a partial renewal. The drawing of lots will be the old-fashioned way: with slips of paper to be drawn from an amphora, but it will be attended by all the constitutional judges and the members of the Qualifying Commission, which is conducting a competition to fill the three vacancies that will occur. The three new judges are expected to take office in February 2022.

The Executive, Legislative and Transparency functions sent shortlists to participate in the competition, which means that at least nine names are proposed. In a report approved this November 22, 2021, the Qualifying Commission accepted five names, after a first verification of requirements, and left out four other applicants.

The competition had already been declared void weeks ago, but some of the applicants, especially in the Executive's shortlist, were included again. The Commission is chaired by Vanessa Aguirre Guzmán and the secretary is Rafael Oyarte, a constitutional lawyer. Among the requirements that have been analyzed is the exercise of at least ten years of the profession or university teaching and to verify this aspect, they have analyzed if the applicants have opened a RUC that allows them to invoice for their work. 


The political forces in the Court 

Who the new three constitutional judges will be is something that could alter the balance of power within the high court. A majority described as "progressive" has achieved, among other issues, the approval of equal marriage, against another group of judges considered more "conservative" especially on political and social issues.

The Court has had frictions with the Executive, since its constitutionality controls over Lasso's emergency decrees caused discomfort in Carondelet. In its most recent decision, the Court reduced from 60 to 30 days the term of the state of emergency which, due to internal commotion, had been issued by Lasso with effects throughout the national territory, although it was really only effective in the coastal provinces and in the province of the capital.

The current Court even issued a statement rejecting Lasso's expressions on Twitter, and stated that the Executive must assume its own responsibilities.

Hence, the renewal process is closely watched in the Palace. In fact, a good part of the candidates of the Executive and some of those of the Transparency Function come from the circles of the Minister of Government, Alexandra Vela, and the Legal Secretary of the Palace, Fabián Pozo and from private university environments (there is no one from public educational institutions) such as the Universidad de las Américas (where Vela was Dean of Law before joining the Government), the Universidad Católica or the Universidad San Francisco de Quito, whose Dean of Law, Farith Simon, publicly defended one of the candidates in an article published in the newspaper El Comercio.  The dean said that he did not defend any candidate, what he did was to criticize the performance of the majority of the qualifying commission, he said.


Only five make it to the next round

The report made public this November 22, 2021 has 14 pages. In the document, signed by Oyarte, there is an analysis of the requirements to participate in this contest. The document explains which are the nine names presented: on behalf of the National Assembly Salim Zaidán Albuja, Alejandra Cárdenas Reyes and Luis Sarango Macas; on behalf of the President of the Republic Richard Ortiz Ortiz, Bárbara Terán Picconi and Jhoel Escudero Soliz; and on behalf of the Transparency Function Mauricio Guim Alfago, María Fernanda Álvarez Alcívar and Carlos Vásquez Morales.

According to the Commission, only five met the requirements: Salim Zaidan Albuja, Alejandra Cárdenas Reyes, Richard Ortiz Ortiz, Bárbara Terán Picconi and Jhoel Escudero Soliz.

Of the other four, two were given the opportunity to complete their documentation: Luis Sarango Macas and Carlos Vásquez Morales. Two more were flatly disqualified, allowing the functions to nominate other candidates: this was the case of Mauricio Guim Alfago and María Fernanda Álvarez.

But, who are these nine lawyers who pretend to be constitutional judges?


Salim Zaidán, a professor committed to co-parenting

Known as an analyst of constitutional issues and professor at the Catholic University, Salim Zaidán is an activist in an issue that arouses mixed passions: the proposal of co-parenting and the defense of the rights of separated parents, who, as they denounce, are prevented from seeing their children despite having fulfilled their financial obligations.

Zaidán has made public his fight against his ex-partner, an Andean parliamentarian elected by Correism, with whom they have constant disputes to be able to see their daughter, who lives in Loja.

According to the Commission, Zaidán, who has been a registered lawyer since 2007, has been a teacher for at least thirteen years, in addition to having been a metropolitan deputy attorney general, a career official in the Attorney General's Office and a legislative advisor, as well as a brief stint in the Foreign Ministry. Zaidán also presented cases in constitutional matters that he has sponsored in 2019 and 2020. The Commission declared that he meets the requirements for the position.

But although that stage of the process has not yet begun, Zaidán has already been objected to by some sectors. A resolution against him obtained by the mother of his daughter for alleged psychological violence in a police station under the Ministry of the Interior, has motivated the rejection of feminist organizations, which have announced that they will challenge him. His colleague, Ramiro Garcia, former president of the Pichincha Bar Association, has not hesitated to call him "ignorant" in constitutional matters, not without first dedicating some other epithets to him. Saidán's name came from the Democratic Left bloc, which managed to obtain the votes for the approval of the slate, but did not have the support of correísmo.

Regarding Zaidán, due to his critical position on feminism, there are those who consider that he could be one more judge of the conservative group, in case he reaches the Court, although others believe that it is unlikely that he will join the most reactionary positions..

Alexandra Cárdenas, a UDLA professor

Fully dedicated to teaching, this lawyer has not practiced her profession, but she has had a career at the Universidad de las Américas, so she is considered to be part of the environment of the Minister of Government, Alexandra Vela.

She obtained her degree in 2005, but does not participate in the Bar Association or the Forum. Instead, she has been a professor at Udla for nine and a half years. She has also taught for six months at IAEN and served as dean of law, although this did not earn her any points. Among the classes Cardenas teaches are some related to human rights, international law and gender, and it is considered that she would be favorable to the progressive majority, if elected. Due to his academic experience, the Commission qualified Cárdenas and declared that she meets the requirements. Cárdenas has had an open RUC since 2006.

Luis Sarango Macas, Pachakutik's share

Little is known about Luis Sarango Macas, the third member of the Legislative slate and who was invited to complete his documentation, so his participation is still in suspense. In the Legislative Palace it is said that his name came from Pachakutik. A lawyer in Pichincha since 1999, he registered his degree in 2002. He opened his RUC in March 2002. For two years, he was national director of Communities of the Public Defender's Office, between 2018 and 2020, and legal advisor to Conaie and the Altrópico Foundation. The Commission was struck by the fact that Sarango included a certificate of his own with which he highlights the processes in which he has intervened. Sarango also sent certificates from the University of the Nicaraguan Caribbean Coast, which are somewhat confusing, as well as those from other study centers. For the Commission, the papers presented by Sarango are insufficient, so they gave him the possibility to complete his documentation.

Mauricio Guim, close to Hernán Pérez Loose

He was disqualified for the second time, since in the declaration of desertion of the previous contest, it had already been pointed out that he did not meet the requirements. This lawyer from Guayaquil is part of Hernán Pérez Loose's entourage, and is also considered close to the legal secretary of the Presidency, Fabián Pozo, despite the fact that his name was proposed by the Transparency Function. He is undersecretary of Normative of the Presidency of the Republic, and stated that although he has not been in the country, as he has spent several years abroad, he has participated as an intern in the case of Diario El Universo, in the Coronel y Pérez law firm in Guayaquil. He registered his degree in 2010, and Pérez Loose gave him a certificate according to which his professional practice is limited to having been part of the legal team that defended the newspaper since 2011.  The Commission noted in its report that Guim's RUC, which was unrelated to legal activities, has been suspended since 2013. Guim's certificates from universities in the United States and Mexico, some of which present him "more than as a student as a colleague and researcher" were not taken into account by the Commission. 

María Fernanda Álvarez, worked with the attorney Íñigo Salvador

She is considered to be close to the current state attorney general, Íñigo Salvador, and also to the current constitutional judge, Ramiro Ávila, who is the most important figure of the group of "progressives" in the Court. She worked in Salvador's private law firm. She registered her law degree in 2010, but since 2008 she was doing "legal assistance", which was not taken into account by the Commission. In 2019 she was a director in the Undersecretariat of Human Rights for three months, and an official in the Ombudsman's Office for three years. She was also director of Human Rights of the State Attorney General's Office, already in the administration of Íñigo Salvador.  Her own father, Vicente Álvarez, gave her a certificate of two years of professional practice, which the Commission considered irregular for someone who intends to become a magistrate.  For the Commission, this meant that she was not qualified. 

Carlos Vázquez Morales, a former judge of the "Pichicorte"

This professor and lawyer from Guayaquil was also disqualified for not meeting the requirements. He was part of the Supreme Court of Justice of 2004, the so-called Pichicorte, a fact that he stated in his application. He obtained his degree in 1983, although he did not register it until 2002. His RUC dates back to 2005, and the Commission considered that there is not enough evidence to prove that he practiced law. The Commission held that his teaching certificates are not clear and that his practice in the Pichicorte as a supreme judge lasted six months. Like Sarango, he still has the possibility to complete the delivery of the information. 


Richard Ortiz, Professor of Constitutional Law at UDLA

He heads the Government's shortlist and is considered part of the environment of the Minister of Government and former Dean of Law at the University of Salamanca, Alexandra Vela. He teaches subjects such as State Theory and Constitutional Law, and has held several public positions in the past years. He has held several positions in the Electoral Function, so he is considered an expert in the field. He obtained his degree in 1992, although he registered it in 2002. For seven years and seven months he has taught legal subjects at Udla. He was also a professor for two years at Universidad San Francisco and for a little over a year at Universidad Internacional.

In addition, he was executive director of the Institute of Democracy and secretary of the Electoral Disputes Tribunal, was an advisor to the National Assembly for two years and was an advisor to Mauro Andino in the Constituent Assembly of Montecristi. Ortiz was qualified by the Commission. There is no consensus on what could be his position among the groups of the court in case he arrives, but there is a tendency to think that the lawyers of Vela's environment could lean towards the progressives. 

Bárbara Terán, a lawyer close to the liberals

His father, Oscar Terán Terán, is a well-known lawyer from Quito, a militant of the causes of liberalism. Although his name was rejected in the first instance by the Commission, which pointed out that she had opened her RUC a short time ago and did not seem to be able to accredit her professional experience, Terán's name was again presented by the Executive. She would have close ties with Fabián Pozo, the legal secretary of the Palace. She is a columnist of the portal 4Pelagatos. former student of the School of Jurisprudence of Universidad San Francisco, she registered her degree in 2003, and the firm Terán y Terán, granted her a certificate of professional practice between 2006 and 2011, and between 2013 and 2019. For the Commission, the certificate was considered insufficient. She has also been teaching intermittently since 2016 at the College of Jurisprudence of Universidad San Francisco, although she has taught subjects related to labor and corporate law.

Terán remedied the Commission's doubts with the presentation of documents about her participation in administrative petitions, arbitrations, judicial rulings, petitions to jurisdictional bodies and lawsuits from at least 2006, which for the Commission meant that she complied with the ten years of practice. Although in its first report the Commission pointed out that her RUC had been opened recently and that her income tax returns showed little income, this detail was not mentioned on this occasion.

Jhoel Escudero, professor at UDLA and Andina universities

A lawyer since 2007, he has been a professor and vice rector of IAEN. He was also a law professor at the Universidad de Las Américas, as well as at the Universidad Andina Simón Bolívar for five and ten years respectively. Reliable sources described him as a lawyer with connections with Minister Vela, but also with lawyers such as Ramiro Avila and Agustin Grijalva, the first one currently a constitutional judge, given his long trajectory in the Andean University. From his several years at the Constitutional Court, he was credited with two years as advisor to former judge Roberto Brunis. Escudero was also qualified and it is said that, in case he reaches the Court, he could align himself with the progressive group.



Translated by Manuel Novik

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