Lawyers take each other to court over bar association leadership dispute


The Budapest bar association is mired in a dispute over the organization’s leadership. There is currently a strange legal situation; the association has a chairman who is viewed by those who oppose him as being in position without any legal basis. In the meantime, the arguments which have led to the current situation seem to reveal an internal rift among supporters of Fidesz, the current political party in government, to the extent that the authorities are also involved.

The Budapest bar association (BUK) is about to be placed under a temporary custodianship after its latest management appointment culminated in a scandal and legal battle which has left the organization in a state of limbo, without any clear indication of what is going on.

As Atlatszo.hu’s investigations found an inside faction intimately connected with the governing Fidesz party – in many cases through direct family ties – made an attempt to take control of the association. However, their candidates were turned down by the majority, they then sued, which led to a legal battle which eventually resulted in a binding court decision saying that the latest congress appointments are null and void. As such, the reelection of BUK chairman Laszlo Reti was voided. However, this now means that BUK cannot function, and as a result it will be taken over by an outside appointee to perform caretaker duties until the situation is resolved.

Reti is a prominent figure in the legal profession, he has held positions at international consultancies and gave his name to important cases. His chairmanship of BUK, however, did not go uncriticized. For instance, he constantly awarded commissions to a particular contractor to provide consultancy services. Geza Papp, BUK secretary general, found that the consultancy that enjoyed Reti’s unwavering support provided no genuine services. Papp pressed charges for the misuse of association funds. Reti never made a secret of his relations, nor that the people he was doing business with also happened to hold positions in BUK. Papp also pointed out that Reti had awarded a lucrative supply contract for legal code collections which the secretary general said was a completely unnecessary commission. Reti’s tenure at the helm of BUK has been a lasting boon to several companies which benefited significantly from their long standing relationship with the chairman.

Papp’s objections, as well as the dispute, occurred largely in the public eye, yet evoked surprisingly little attention. Most of the lawyers that Atlatszo.hu asked merely shrugged.

This is all the more surprising since it is important whether the bar association is a legitimate entity at any given moment in time. For example, joining when the association’s status is unclear could mean a new member would begin practicing without a proper license which could in turn lead to a whole range of issues later on.

Reti attempted to strike back by claiming Papp is a figurehead of Fidesz-insiders who are operating in the background, and who are trying to overthrow him and take control of the association. However, whatever the up-and-comers have in mind for BUK, it’s not clear that this would be an attempt by the governing party to gain control of the legal profession. Reti himself has received several decorations from those currently in power and he also has business ties that show he’s on the right side. Furthermore, government sources we asked also frowned upon the bickering which they deem is unbecoming of the legal profession.

As such, the simple answer, that one political side is trying to take over doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. It is most likely that even Fidesz, with its strong approval ratings, is at times burdened with internal disputes when some members think the rewards of power are not distributed fairly.

Original article in Hungarian