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Federal judge told to resign after “spitting” incident

Martin Schubarth has been asked to resign by his fellow judges Keystone

Switzerland's longest-serving Federal Court judge - who was last week accused of spitting on a journalist - has been asked to resign by his peers.

Federal Court judges on Wednesday took the unprecedented step of condemning an incident involving Martin Schubarth in the entry hall of the Lausanne-based court.

Swiss media reports said Schubarth spat on a journalist from the German-language daily “Neue Zürcher Zeitung” (NZZ) as well as a court typist on February 11.

Schubarth denies the allegation, saying he fell victim to a “coughing attack” and that he apologised on the same day.

However, a meeting of Federal Court judges decided to suspend Schubarth from making any judicial decisions.

“The [court’s judges are] of the view that Mr Martin Schubarth should announce his resignation,” the judges said in a statement.

An “individual”

The NZZ newspaper described Schubarth on its website as a “professionally brilliant but controversial” figure.

The 61-year-old judge was elected to the Federal Court – Switzerland’s highest court – by the Swiss parliament in 1982, with the backing of the centre-left Social Democrats.

At the time, the Basel-based legal academic was criticised for supporting the anti-atomic energy movement.

His political activities have included membership of the Social Democrats, a relationship he broke off at the end of last year.

According to the NZZ, while conservative politicians considered Schubarth too left leaning, he also alienated many on his own side.

The paper added that he was often portrayed as a “wilful individual” who was not always loved by his Federal Court peers.

“Schubarth didn’t hold himself back when it came to questioning the work of journalists and criticising the power of the media,” the paper commented.

Troubled re-elections

Before his re-election to the court late last year, criticism of Schubarth was investigated by a parliamentary commission, which found no evidence of any professional misconduct.

At his re-election in 1990, Schubarth was forced to go to a second round of voting before being approved by both houses of the Swiss parliament.

He rose to the post of court vice-president from 1997-98 and president between 1999-2000.

The Federal Court has 41 judges who are elected by the Swiss parliament.

swissinfo with agencies

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR