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Mexican justice in thesis scandal claims vindication from technicality

A new twist in the monthslong saga that has bewildered Mexico’s legal community after multiple nonsensical developments.

MEXICO CITY (CN) — Lawyers for an embattled Mexican Supreme Court justice accused of plagiarizing both her undergraduate and doctoral theses premiered the latest installment of what has become a laughter-eliciting affair for the country’s legal community. 

The academic qualifications of Supreme Court Justice Yasmín Esquivel Mossa first made headlines in December after allegations surfaced that she plagiarized her undergraduate thesis. Some weeks later, an ethics panel at the National Autonomous University of Mexico confirmed the plagiarism. UNAM, which granted Esquivel's law degree in 1987, presented three other nearly identical papers and said Esquivel’s was a “substantial copy” of one presented the year before.

Esquivel's attorneys meanwhile urged the UNAM ethics committee to throw out the case against her on Thursday, claiming in that a Mexico City judge ruled in May that she did not plagiarize her thesis. The lawyers announced the development in press conference in Mexico City but did not make the decision public, saying instead that they plan to present the case documentation to the UNAM ethics committee.

“This firm and unassailable judicial declaration issued by the legally competent authority has resolved that the author of the thesis in question is Yasmín Esquivel Mossa, and therefore she is the legitimate holder of the copyright to the cited intellectual work,” attorney Alejandro Román told reporters.

Esquivel's lawyers say the judgment came out of a civil case that the judge filed against Eduardo Báez Gutiérrez, a man she accuses of having presented a thesis nearly identical to hers in 1986. Báez reportedly failed to appear in court, leading Judge María Magdalena Malpica Cervantes to rule in favor of Esquivel.

Despite Báez having turned his thesis in a year ahead of Esquivel, the already zany saga became more bizarre when audio surfaced in January of the man admitting to having copied from the judge.

After months of such comical turns, Mexico’s legal community received Thursday’s announcement with rolled eyes. 

UNAM law professor Javier Martín Reyes used the term “clown show” to describe Román's assertion that a civil case win on a technicality somehow absolves Esquivel of the ethical implications of plagiarism. He also pointed to an important word in the university’s name: autonomous. 

“Regardless of the details in the ruling, a civil decision cannot put conditions on the UNAM to take corresponding action,” Reyes said. 

Sergio López Ayllón, a research professor in the law department at the Mexico City-based think tank CIDE, called the announcement “ridiculous” and said that Esquivel’s lawyers have their jurisdictions mixed up. 

Copyright infringement, for example, is a federal matter, he said, and the UNAM was in no way a party to the cited civil case. As for Báez’s failure to appear in court, he said it does not prove Esquivel’s authorship of the thesis. 

“The eventual decision of the UNAM ethics committee is not an issue of copyright, but rather one of inappropriate conduct, which is the plagiarism,” said López, adding that a civil case in no way obliges the UNAM to take any action whatsoever. 

UNAM law professor Rodrigo Brito Melgarejo noted that members of the ethics committee may ultimately consider the civil case, but the ruling is in no way binding. 

“In the end, the decision remains in the committee’s hands,” he said.

In a statement issued after initial publication of this article, the UNAM confirmed that it was not party to the cited lawsuit of “questionable provenance” and that it is in no way bound to act in response.

Justice Esquivel has filed two civil suits and two writs of amparo, the statement read. Amparo is a protection order similar to habeas corpus in U.S. law. One of the suits is preventing the university from publishing the ethics committee’s full official report on the justice’s thesis.

The UNAM called on Esquivel to “withdraw the other court cases and allow the university and its ethics committee to conclude its academic work.”

Esquivel has also been accused of plagiarizing her doctoral thesis at another Mexico City university. The justice has staunchly claimed innocence throughout the scandal.

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Categories / Courts, Education, International, Law

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