Embattled Mexican Supreme Court Justice Yasmín Esquivel. Photo: Google


Just as Julius Caesar once quipped, “It is not enough for Caesar’s wife to be honest, she must appear to be honest too,” public servants, both men and women, must maintain at least an acceptable public reputation in order to maintain their positions and perform their functions accordingly.

Unlike common citizens, whose life and actions do not pass under the magnifying glass of social scrutiny, harsh as it may seem, the principle of presumption of innocence does not apply for public servants. Any doubt about their probity affects the legitimacy they need to exercise, with credibility, the responsibilities entrusted to them.

And so it is with the case of Mexican Supreme Court (SCJN) Justice Yasmín Esquivel, who — justly or unjustly — has been accused of plagiarizing her professional thesis.

Poorly advised by her lawyers, perhaps even pressured by her husband, embattled civil engineer José María Riobóo, Esquivel’s greatest mistake has been to believe that a favorable court ruling could counteract the personal discredit that she has accumulated as a result of the alleged plagiarism scandal.

Esquivel’s problem is no longer a problem of legality but of legitimacy. Her adversary is not, as she seems to think and has apparently been led to believe, the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), but public opinion, published opinion and citizen opinion, which consider her guilty of academically reprehensible and professionally shameful conduct. That is not going to change, no matter how many provisional or definitive suspensions or injunctions she may win, assuming she does.

Marked by suspicion and allegations of professional misconduct, the legal appeal presented by Esquivel Mossa against the UNAM achieved something that seemed very difficult: to return to the foreground and to the front pages the matter of the plagiarism of her thesis, always with her as a suspect responsible for that scandalous illegality, two months after the matter came to the forefront.

With the appeal, Esquivel radically changed her strategy, leaving the discreet comfort of silence to go on to witch hunt against the UNAM and its officials. She is no longer a silent victim but a pro-active aggressor.

Rather than trying to come off as an innocent victim, she has become the neighborhood bully, trying to intimidate her adversaries, in this case, university officials.

Esquivel has fully abandoned any remnants of elegance and polite forms. She has now assumed the mode of a lawyer who feints and litigates before the media, magnifying the threats with which she seeks, basically, to intimidate what she identifies as her adversary, the UNAM.

This behavior suggests that Esquivel is not longer interested in being believed as innocent. It seems that the only thing she wants now is to make sure that no matter what, she won’t be removed from the Supreme Court.

Since neither the Mexican judiciary nor the Senate have assumed their responsibility in the case to get to the truth, Esquivel has identified the UNAM as the only front from which harm can be done, with the potential revocation of her degree or the cancellation of her professional accreditation.

If it is true that for trial lawyers the only important thing in the end is the “legal truth,” that maxim will not work for politicians and even less for public servants.

The request for amparo promoted by the minister, with everything and the provisional suspension obtained, which already raises suspicions due to the creative criteria of Judge Sandra de Jesús Zuñiga, only served two things: 1. Relaunch and promote the issue on the public agenda and 2. Reinforce the widespread perception that the minister is guilty of plagiarism and is now trying, by all means, to stop UNAM’s actions and silence its directors, to avoid the only sanction that, some say, could deprive her from her seat on the Full Supreme Court.

Sooner or later, and the later it will be, the more costly it will be for her, for her entourage, and for everyone who defends her, including the other 10 ministers accustomed to not being accountable and to silence, as well as President López Obrador who proposed her and has defended her on more than one occasion, Yasmín Esquivel will end up understanding that her permanence in Court, and in public life, is unfeasible because it became an extremely costly burden for her, for her family, for her friends and for the president himself .

A public servant cannot hide behind the door of secrecy.

Esquivel’s appeal has already raised suspicions against her. It is aimed not at getting to the truth but at silencing her accusers at the UNAM.

Sooner or later — and, no doubt, it will be later — this approach will prove to be costly for her and the other 10 Supreme Court justices, as well as Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who appointed her to the SCJN and has defended on more than one occasion.

Eventually, Esquivel will understand that her permanence on the Supreme Court and in public life is unfeasible.

A private individual can decide to ignore a bad public reputation, but a public servant will always remain in the public eye.

Sooner or later, Esquivel will have to accept the fact that she will never regain her reputation, even if she wins her appeal in court.

ALEJANDRO ENVILA FISHER is a lawyer and professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico’s (UNAM) School of Law. He directed the political magazine Cambio and Radio Capital for 15 years. He also founded and directed GreenTV, a cable television channel specializing in sustainability and the environment, for five years. He has been a commentator and host for various radio and television shows and has written political columns for the newspapers El Día and Unomásuno, in addition to publishing articles in more than 20 regional newspapers in Mexico since 1995. He is the author of the books “One Hundred Names of the Mexican Transition,” “Chimalhuacán, the Empire of La Loba” and “Chimalhuacán, from Lost City to Model Municipality.”

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