The Office of the Disciplinary Counsel of the High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council (ODC HJPC) has opened a case on Radmila Mandić, a judge of the Municipal Court in Široki Brijeg. In early December 2023, Judge Mandić rendered a fist-instance judgment finding the Center for Investigative Reporting liable for defamation based on reporting of another media outlet regarding the business activities of Lager from Posušje. Notably, she extensively copied defamation judgments previously issued by this court against the Inforadar and Žurnal portals in favor of the Posušje-based company.
The ODC opened the case ex officio after CIN published its report on the matter. After investigating the claims presented in the article, the ODC will decide whether or not to file a disciplinary action against the judge.
Under the first-instance judgment, CIN is obliged to compensate 4,000 BAM in damages to Lager from Posušje for defamation and remove from its portal the investigative stories Lager’s faulty goods and Stockpiling concessions, which discuss the business practices of this company. CIN appealed the judgment to the Cantonal Court in Široki Brijeg.
Against a brief review of the text that was the subject of Lager’s lawsuit, judge Mandić in her decision mostly referred to the contents that CIN never published: video footage by the online magazine Žurnal titled Kamengrad mine – pollution of the Bliha river and surrounding villages, and parts from the related story about poor quality coal mining in Sanski Most municipality, pollution of the surrounding villages, river and air – Lager Company Endangers the Population of Kamengrad: If the excavators start digging, these hills will slide down, and Although Lager is under investigation by USKOK: EP BiH will pay the company from Posušje 105 million marks for coal procurement.
Against this background, Judge Mandić concluded that „based on the presented evidence,“ the truthfulness of the claims made in the texts cannot be established. However, the „presented evidence“ Judge Mandić was referring to did not exist. Not only were they not the subject of the lawsuit because they pertained to the content of another media outlet, but these texts were not even mentioned during the court proceedings.
Trying to make sense of a series of unclear and illogical statements from the judgment of the Municipal Court in Široki Brijeg, the CIN editorial team discovered that this court had made an earlier judgment against Žurnal three months before. Lager sued this portal for defamation in one of the articles that Judge Mandić quoted in the decision against CIN.
By comparing the judgments, journalists found that Judge Mandić to a significant extent copied the judgment of Judge Snježana Parlain, whose conclusions ended up in the CIN judgment.
Judge Parlain, in her decision from September 2023, held Žurnal liable for defaming Lager, ordering it to pay 1,000 BAM in damages to the company and remove the story from its portal. Žurnal appealed this decision to the Cantonal Court in Široki Brijeg.
Between September and December 2023, the courts in Široki Brijeg, in addition to these two first-instance judgments, also issued a final judgment against the Inforadar portal, which also reported on this Posušje company. The 2021 judgment of Judge Parlain was upheld by the Cantonal Court in Široki Brijeg in November 2023, which ordered the Inforadar to pay 2,000 BAM in damages to Lager and remove the article from the portal.