The Uruguayan Judiciary branch warned President Jose Mujica that he is in contempt of justice for ignoring a budget bill that contemplates salary increases for judges and other members of independent government bodies.
On Monday President Mujica visited the Supreme Court where the issue was discussed with the Justices, since the president had stated bluntly the Treasury does not have the funds to make the payments contemplated in the last budget bill.
The original presidential decision was communicated to the Magistrates association that informed the Supreme Court saying they are prepared to go to the courts charging the Uruguayan president of contempt of justice for not complying with what the budget bill established.
The controversy was triggered when the administration decided to match cabinet members salaries to those of lawmakers. However under Uruguayan law ministers set the level of other government officials including magistrates (plus the Judicial branch staff pyramid) and members of independent bodies such as the Electoral Board and the Auditors Court.
This was included in the last budget bill approved by government lawmakers, apparently not rigorous enough in checking legislation or too confident that given the sufficient majority in Parliament any initiative included could be passed.
Ignoring the law the minister of Economy of the time Fernando Lorenzo, who was forced to resign for his involvement in another scandal relative to Uruguay's flag air carrier Pluna, said at the time the ministry did not have the funds to face such outlays.
An interpretation bill pretending that such increases only applied to cabinet ministers was disputed by members of the Electoral Board and an estimated 400 magistrates arguing the initiative was unconstitutional. This was supported by the Supreme Court since it was included in the budget bill, besides the fact that it was unanimously voted by the government majority in the Legislative.
The first ruling favorable to members of the Electoral Court, was then sent to the Auditors Court that established that the earnings difference from 27 April 2012 amounted to the equivalent of 62.500 dollars for each member of the board.
A second ruling also was favorable to the 400 magistrates and the Executive was notified that it must comply with the law and settle the pending obligations. If not President Mujica would be in contempt of law and as such face trial.
This was the reason for the friendly visit of President Mujica and his Technical and Legal Advisor Guerrero to the Supreme Court.
Magistrates consider the discrimination particularly unfair since ministers do not have the constitutional and legal constraints that judges must comply as guarantee of their impartiality.
Finally the union of Judiciary staff at the time also appealed the Executive decision not to pay the increases, at a lower court and also won the demand. This means that 3,000 employees from the courts are entitled to the difference of salaries at least in the period from January to March 2011. Courts' staff in Uruguay are paid according to a pyramidal percentage system based on a magistrate's salary.