Diary of a Croatian Lawsuit: Entering the 3rd Calendar Year

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Athough it is not pleasant being sued, I must confess that my first experience has been fascinating. And while I don’t necessarily look forward to trekking to the Zagreb Municipal Court, the blogging material and post-court coffee with the legendica that is my lawyer, Vanja Juric, more than make up for it. 

For those looking to get up to speed, here is the first part of Diary of a Croatian Lawsuit, documenting the wheels of justice turning (if they are turning at all) in two lawsuits against me from the Croatian National Tourist Board. Both were issued almost a year ago, one for an article that I didn’t write on a portal that I don’t own that quoted me, the other for a satirical use of the national tourist board logo, which I posted on my private Facebook account, without comment, for about 3 days last summer. Total damages sought for defamation – some 100,000 kuna. 

Interestingly, the article I didn’t write on the portal I do not own is still live, while the Facebook photo accumulated 316 likes and 20 comments at the time, and was totally and utterly forgotten until the ensuing lawsuit became public. It was then plastered over the television news and many portals, having far more impact than the original innocent post. Scales of defamation work in mysterious ways in Croatia. 

I wasn’t really sure what to expect from the lawsuits, and I listened a little disbelievingly when friends said they would go on for years. Both cases seemed pretty simple to me, surely we could sort them out in an afternoon?

As I mentioned last time, the speed of Croatian justice seems to be somewhat linked to the ability of Croatian lawyers to get organised. 

My first hearing (for the logo) was on April 10. As I prepared for my first court case at the tender age of 52, Vanja was informed by the prosecution lawyer that he had filed a last minute motion, which she had not been a copy of. The reason for the late sumission was that the lawyer had apparently been in hosptial for the previous 7 days and could not do it any earlier. It was only later I learned that the law firm, of which he is a partner, has no less than 50 lawyers, all of them who were presumably too busy – or too ill – to submit the motion in time. 

The hearing took three minutes, and the judge declared that the new evidence should be considered, and that we should all reconvene on July 7. 

Meanwhile, the lawsuit for the article I didn’t write on the portal I do not own, which was scheduled for May 3 was postponed until May 31, as the same lawyer was double booked that day.

On May 31, the rescheduled hearing was again postponed, this time until November. The reason? You guessed it – the same laywer had double booked that day. 

And so to this week’s hearing. Half expecting the lawyer to be double booked again (and the other 49 lawyers in the firm unavailable), I was not even convinced that the hearing would take place. But we heard nothing to the contrary, and off I went to the court, ready for what would surely be another fascinating look into the world of Croatian justice. 

The prosecuting lawyer – who is always friendly and polite – was there before us, two minutes before the hearing began. He explained to Vanja that he had a last minute motion to submit, but that he had not been able to do so becuase he had been abroad for medical tests for the last 15 days. There is apparently nobody else of the 49 lawyers in the office who can take on such a complicated case as mine (what is so complicated, really?). Vanja refused to accept the copy of the last-minute motion, and we entered the courtroom. 

As the prosecution lawyer tried to file the last minute motion, the judge refused to accept it, stating that such motions had to be filed electronically. The lawyer then exercised his apparent right to read out the motion in court, so that the stenographer could document it.

It was pages long, but did not seem to say anything new. As the lawyer read through his mask, I marvelled at just how much money this whole procedure was costing – money which could, and should, be being used for tourism promotion. And then I caught sight of the case file with my name on. It was literally the biggest file I have ever seen – about 15-20 cm of papers. Were most of them blank and the size of the file there to intimidate? Or were all the pages relevant to the case, in which case how much money was being spent on this?

The judge listened to Vanja’s reply, then decided it was time to move on to the next stage of the case – in January, 2022! 

At that hearing – if it is not postponed due to double booking or last minute motions filed almost straight from hospital –  apparently two people will be asked to present their evidence pertaining to the case. For the prosecution, Kristjan Stanicic, Director of the Croatian National Tourist Board, and for the defence, little old me. It promises to be an interesting day (if it is not postponed again), and I am looking forward to it for several reasons. Among them is the chance to finally meet the Croatian National Tourist Board director. something which has not happened so far in his five years in office. 

So there we are. Timeframe of Lawsuit 1

August 2020 – post on Facebook

October 2020 – lawsuit served

April 2021 – First hearing, lasting 3 minutes and postponed until July due to last minute motion filed.

July 2021 – Another last minute motion filed. The case is postponed until the following year.

January 2022 – The next scheduled installment. Stay tuned. 

Meanwhile, here is the timeline of Lawsuit 2, for the article I didn’t write on the portal I do not own.

June 2020 – Article appears online (and remains online today).

August 2020 – Lawsuit is served.

May 3, 2021 – First hearing is postponed, as prosecution lawyer has double booked.

May 31, 2021 – Rearranged first hearing is postponed, as prosection lawyer has double booked again.  

November 2021 – The rearranged, rearranged first hearing for the case on the article which appeared online 17 months earlier. 

And so, there we have it. The wheels of Croatian justice in action. 

And so now I do well believe my friends when they say these cases will take years. Assuming the January hearing does take place, the judge can then call expert witnesses for both sides (CNTB have named two) at a date presumably several months after January.  Then I assume there will be a verdict at some point, then an appeal, then possibly an appeal to a higher Croatian court, followed by a trip to Strasbourg, where there is precedent for both these cases. 

Years of fun. 

To be continued in November, 2021. Unless, of course, there are double bookings, last minute motions, or other unforseen circumstances. 

Your prediction for the year that these cases will be concluded? 


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