Seda Safarian was one of the two new justices nominated by the Armenian government and confirmed by the National Assembly in September.
It emerged recently that on at least one occasion Safarian represented a private client in another Armenian court after her election. What is more, she sent documents to the Court of Appeals on behalf of the client on December 28, two weeks after formally taking over as a Constitutional Court judge.
Critics consider this a serious violation of Armenian law which bans judges from doing any other paid work. They say that the Constitutional Court must take disciplinary action or even consider ousting Safarian. It is still not clear whether any of the nine court judges has demanded disciplinary proceedings against her.
Court records publicized late last week show that Safarian informed fellow judges about her controversial private practice a meeting held on January 10. She denied any wrongdoing, saying that she only provided the Court of Appeals with additional documents on December 28 and that her actual appeal was filed on December 5.
Safarian made the same argument when she spoke with RFE/RL’s Armenian Service last week.
“The appeal lodged on December 5 was sent back on the grounds that some document is missing. It was added and sent back [to the Court of Appeals,]” she said.
A group of lawyers critical of the Armenian government dismissed that explanation at a news conference held on Friday. They insisted that Safarian broke the law and must at least be subjected to disciplinary action.
One of the lawyers, Arsen Babayan, said she must also be removed from the Constitutional Court altogether. Babayan argued that as of the end of January Safarian remained listed on a state registry of “individual entrepreneurs” working as lawyers.
Under Armenian law, disciplinary proceedings against a Constitutional Court judge must be demanded by at least three other justices. The court again refused to say on Tuesday whether any of them has demanded such an inquiry into Safarian.
The law also allows the Armenian parliament to appeal to the Constitutional Court to oust its members accused of serious misconduct. The lawyers led by Babayan said that they will ask the National Assembly to take such action against Safarian.
The parliament’s pro-government majority voted virtually unanimously to appoint Safarian to the court.
Her election essentially completed a purge of the country’s highest court which Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s political team began in 2020 with constitutional changes condemned by the Armenian opposition as illegal. Opposition lawmakers regard the new court members installed since then as government loyalists.