The very first day of preliminary hearings has shown that no-one plans to abandon the previously adopted scenario of putting the former prime minister behind bars for a long time. The hearing featured heightened security of several hundred troops from the Interior Ministry’s State Service and Berkut. MPs clashed with security guards. Access to the court session was impeded for the press. Déjà vu.
The Tymoshenko case was randomly assigned to Judge Iryna Horb. She studied the materials for a month, and then Olena Sitailo suddenly replaced her. Judge Horb allegedly recused herself, citing previous adjudication of cases linked to gas contracts and a desire to avoid speculation. The mass media alleged that the young judge did not want to spoil her career with a shady trial. According to information obtained by the defense, Judge Sitailo earlier specialized in cases involving petty domestic crimes, divorces and car theft. The session of the appellate court began with the defense challenging the judge whose persona raises questions apart from her lack of relevant experience. For example, was she able to study all 37 volumes of the case in a mere three days? Of course she rejected the challenge, like she did most other action except the request to accept the appeal itself.
But the session ended abruptly when Sitailo fell ill. She adjourned the court and sought medical aid. The judge returned to the courtroom two hours later and continued the session but never looked exactly combat-ready. She left Tymoshenko under arrest and adjourned the trial until December 13. Finally, she closed the session and several minutes later was taken to hospital by an ambulance — siren blaring, lights flashing.
Nevertheless, the first day of the appellate hearing did spark intrigue. Observers are left to wonder if Judge Sitailo will risk continuing the trial after what she has experienced, or follow in the footsteps of Judge Horb and recuse herself? If she does opt out, a new judge will have to be found and he or she will start the proceedings anew. It is quite possible that this will be the case, leading the trial to drag on indefinitely.