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These stories were published Monday, May 10, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 91
Jo Stuart
About us
Country's legal system has rules for complaints
By Garland M. Baker
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Attorneys are not too well thought of anywhere in the world.  Costa Rica is no exception.

One dictionary tongue-in-cheekly defines a lawyer as "One who defends your estate against an enemy, in order to appropriate it to himself." 

There are many cases in Costa Rica where attorneys do just that, manipulated paperwork so their clients lose assets they have acquired after they use legal services.  Also conflict of interest is not policed here as strongly as in other parts of the world.  Lawyers in Costa Rica can be representing themselves in cases where they are the bad guys.

The question is what can be done about it.  Here is how the system works:

An attorney does not have to be a notary to practice law in this country but a notary needs to be an attorney.  Attorneys practice law and notaries are persons legally empowered to witness and certify the validity of documents and to take affidavits (in Costa Rica called actas) and depositions (in Costa Rica called declaraciones juradas) and to execute any public instrument or deed.  Attorneys must be a member of the Colegio de Abogados, Costa Rica’s bar association, to practice.  Notaries also must be registered with the Dirección Nacional de Notariado, the national notary directorate.

The Colegio de Abogados is a public institution formed by the government to handle the private interests of this group. The Dirección National de Notariado is part of the court system. 

Any citizen can make a complaint against a lawyer who has violated in any way the code of ethics set forth by the colegio.  Once the complaint is filed, the allegation will be investigated by the inspectors’ office of the association.  If the Board of Directors finds fault, it will hand down the appropriate sanctions.  During the initial stages of the process, a conciliation meeting is called between the parties to see if a settlement can be made.

Complaints against a notary must be filed with the notary directorate of the court, and a more extensive investigation will take place.  If the case has merit, the situation becomes a court case, handled much like a criminal case where the prosecutors from the notary court take over.  Once this happens, the complainant needs to attach himself to the case as a civil party as well as a victim.

If the notary is found guilty and liable for his or her conduct, compensatory and punitive damages will be awarded.  Since most legal professionals know the law all too well, they do not have assets in their name. This makes collection of a judgment difficult.

The good news is notaries pay every month into a fund which supplies them with a fidelity bond.  Most people do not know these bonds exist and that they can be used to pay off a judgment awarded by the court.

In theory, the maximum payout out of the bond fund is 200 basic salaries. Currently a basic 

salary is 103,080 colons or at the current exchange rate of 430 colons to the U.S. dollar, $240.  This means the payout could be as much as $48,000

The bad news is the funds payout policy was recently changed to limit any amount to that paid in by the professional.  A notary practicing for eight years may only have a little more than a thousand dollars paid into the fund.  If any monies are paid from the fidelity bond, the notary is suspended until money is replaced.

Current lawyers suspended by the Colegio de Abogados can be found by clicking HERE!

Changes to the regulations governing notaries were made with the registration changes to the Registro National, Costa Rica’s national registry, Nov. 22, 1998.  Now an attorney must practice law for two years and must complete an additional two years of study before he or she can become a notary.  Before this change, any attorney could be a notary. 

The most important change in the regulations is that before November 1998, a notary could write a "hold harmless" clause into any document. Those clauses are now considered null and void even if they exist.  No notary can release him or herself from professional liability these days.  However, the statue of limitations to prosecute is a mere two years.

Another limitation is most lawyers will not file an action against a comrade, making it necessary to go it alone in front of the regulating authorities made up of lawyers and notaries.

The best recommendation is to try to stay out of a situation where you need to complain.  This means, do your homework when you are going to retain a legal professional.  There are 15,787 attorneys currently with licenses to practice in Costa Rica as of April 29. One half of those licenses have been issued in the past eight years, meaning most attorneys have little experience at their profession.

Check to see if someone you are interested in has contributed to the legal profession as a whole by making searches on the Internet to see if their name appears as someone who has written legal papers or are associated with organizations.

Also remember, here are many tasks that do not need a legal professional but can be handled by other qualified individuals, groups, or associations that have excellent reputations.

If you do need to make a complaint or file a criminal action against a legal professional, find someone who knows the ropes and will fight for your rights.

Garland M. Baker is a 32-year resident of Costa Rica who provides business services to the international community. He can be reached at info@crexpertise.com. Mr. Baker has undertaken the research leading to these series of articles in conjunction with A.M. Costa Rica. Lic. Allan Garro provides the legal review and can be reached at crlaw@licgarro.com

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Another television station discovers prostitutes
These tourists will have a rough time at home
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Note to the guys from Detroit who are visiting Flamingo:

You better not go home. Your local ABC affiliate is planning a show with you in the staring role as sex-starved gringos.

La Nación, the Spanish language daily let the cat out of the bag Sunday with an extensive coverage of the visit by some 170 men from the Detroit area. The thrust of the story was that prostitutes from all over the country were descending on Flamingo because that’s where the boys are. 

The newspaper characterized the visitors as policemen, firemen and limousine drivers. The newspaper said its reporter and the visiting local ABC news crew witnessed young women entering the hotel where the men were staying, and it quoted Bruce Harris of Casa Alianza saying that never had such a large group of sex tourists been seen here.

The men were here for a fishing tournament.

An A.M. Costa Rica reporter saw roughly the same activities in downtown San José Saturday night including women entering some of the hotels there.

The reporters and television producers were in search of underage prostitutes, but, according to the La Nación story, they did not find any. A spokesman for the Flamingo Marina Resort said ages were checked for any woman entering the hotel, said the newspaper.

Prostitution by adults in Costa Rica is not a crime, but those who become involved with minors face stiff penalties.

Television producer Steve Wilson has been in Costa Rica at least two weeks. His television report will include footage from hidden cameras and footage shot from a helicopter showing the departure of the Michigan tourists, said La Nación.

La Nación reporter Otto Vargas said in his story that he and Wilson went to the beach at Flamingo more than a week ago trying to line up underage prostitutes. They secretly photographed one 30-year-old woman bragging that she could supply underage prostitutes, but she never did.

The last North American television show about prostitution here was on Canada’s CTV network’s W-Five show in March. 

The producers quoted Harris saying that there were thousands of girls here being sexually exploited by perverts.

Flooding hits Caribbean
and northern zone

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The rainy season is living up to its name with steady rains flooding areas around Limón, Siquirres and Sarapiquí.  At least one person has died in a swollen river and nearly 600 persons have been forced from their homes.

The weather bureau says no relief is in sight and predicts that the rains could last through Wednesday.

The Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias warned that the possibility exists for serious damage in Matina, Limón, Siquirres, Sarapiquí and the entire Caribbean slope.

The commission also said that there was also danger in the northern zone, including La Fortuna near the Arenal Volcano and Venecia de San Carlos.

The death took place in the Río Toro in Golfito de Pital de San Carlos. The man who fell in the river still is unidentified.

For travelers the most  serious inconvenience were landslides that closed Route 32, the Braulio Carrillo Highway from San José to Guápiles. The major highway was expected to be open later today.

The landslide took place near Río Frio, said the commission. At least eight other roads also were closed due to slides or from rivers running out of their banks.

The commission also reported damage to a bridge over the Quebrada Cartegena near Río Jiménez in Guácimo.

In all, nine shelters were put into service housing some 584 persons, said the commission. The most populated was in Puerto Viejo de Sarapiquí where 271 persons took refuge.

The Central Valley experienced some rain overnight and into Sunday morning, but there were no emergencies.

The Instituto Meteorológico Nacional said that about a half inch of rain had fallen on the City of San José.

Truckload of marijuana
falls into police hands

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Fuerza Pública officers confiscated more than a ton of marijuana Friday morning near San Vito de Coto Brus.

Police got a tip and found a truck parked about five miles outside of town loaded with what appeared to be bags of fertilizer. Closer inspection showed that some of the bags contained marijuana, officials said.

Arrested were two persons, named Valverde Palma and Jiménez Mora, who were associated with the vehicle. They are in the delivery business, officials said.

To put the haul in perspective, officials said that the marijuana would make 14,850,000 marijuana cigarettes.
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New bridge coming
for Manual Antonio

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Construction will begin within 30 days on a new pedestrian bridge that will provide better access to the Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio.

Three agencies of the government made the announcement and said construction was the result of an agreement among themselves.

The Contraloría General de la República has approved the contract, according to an announcement by the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo, one of the three agencies.

The park receives some 180,000 tourists a year, and these visitors run a grave risk because they have to cross an inlet that changes daily due to the effects of the ocean, said the institute.

The new bridge will be wood and steel and span 85 meters, some 275 feet, said the institute. The bridge will be 1.5 meters wide, just short of five feet and have a treated wood floor, according to the announcement. It is designed to have minimal visual effect on the environment.

The pricetag for the work is 29.2 million colons, about $67,500. Of this, the institute will pay 14 millions with the Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes paying 9.2 million and the Ministerio de Ambiente y Energía paying 6 million, said the announcement.

A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas
Didier Suárez, 21, scares the pigeons with his powerwasher at the Cronos building in the center of San José. But of course the pigeons are the reason the washer is needed in the first place.

Camping on the beach at Papagayo is the issue
Tourism institute sees support Sala IV decision
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Environmental activists who wanted to camp at Playa Panamá near the Four Seasons Resort have failed to obtain an injunction from the Sala IV constitutional court, according to the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo.

Camping on public beaches is a tradition in Costa Rica, but would-be campers were not allowed to do so in the public portions of Playa Panamá over Christmas and Easter.

One activist, identified as Adolfo Arguedas Arias, filed a petition for relief with the constitutional court, and that petition has been denied, said the tourism institute.

The institute said Friday that the court declined to intercede. However, as frequently happens with high court decisions, the outcome is known but the reasoning behind the decisions will not become available for several days or weeks. The court took the action April 23, the tourism institute said.

The country’s maritime law allows the public free passage along the beach within 50 meters (about 160 feet) of high water line. But the Four Seasons and the Polo de Desarrollo Turístico del Golfo de Papagayo, the institutes multi-million-dollar project in the north Pacific, say that passage does not include camping.

The institute interpreted the courts decision as saying that the Fuerza Pública did not violate the rights of Arguedas and others when officers 

prohibited campers from setting up on the beach.

The institute noted that nearby is an area set aside especially for camping.

The institute’s announcement differs from claims by the activists in April that they had won a Sala IV decision. They were critical of Fuerza Pública officers for not allowing them to enter the beach for camping even though they were presented with legal papers.

The issue of camping actually is a protest against the Papagayo development and the allocation of public land for private hotels.

More than a dozen activists tried to camp on the  beach during the Christmas holidays.

At that time the hotel said in a release that such visits contrary to the laws of the institute "may adversely affect a tourism development project that has brought benefit to the people of Guanacaste and, worse yet, project a negative false image of Costa Rica outside of the country’s borders." 

The activists groups involved call themselves the Confraternidad Guanacasteca. They are the Comité Cívico de Cañas, the Asociación Ambientalista de la Península de Nicoya and the Federación Costarricense para la Conservación del Ambiente. 

The Four Seasons began operating Jan. 18 and is the  first active operation in the gigantic Península  Papagayo Project. 

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Nicaragua praised for destroying 333 missiles
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The United States has praised Nicaragua's decision to destroy a portion of its shoulder-fired air defense missiles, which were obtained from the former Soviet Union in the 1980s.

The State Department said in a statement issued prior to Nicaragua's May 4 destruction of 333 surface-to-air missiles that the weapons have been actively sought and used by terrorist organizations to attack civil aviation, specifically in Kenya in 2002. Following that incident, the United Nations Security Council adopted a resolution condemning the Nov. 28, 2002, attempted missile attack on an Israeli airliner departing Mombassa, Kenya.

The State Department said in its statement that the shoulder-fired air defense missiles (known as "manpads") were dangerous weapons. "We applaud Nicaragua's decision to eliminate" a portion of its missile stockpile, the State Department said. The acronym "manpads" stands for "man-portable air defense system."

The State Department said it is working with other countries in the region and around the world to reduce the threat of these missiles. A U.S. contractor was to carry out the destruction of the 

missiles in cooperation with the Nicaraguan government, the State Department said.

News reports said Nicaraguan President Enrique Bolaños destroyed the missiles as a "genuine indication of our interest in reaching a regional balance of weapons in Central America." Bolaños' government also said it planned to destroy more of the missiles in July.

Nicaragua reportedly has some 2,000 surface-to-air weapons. The missiles were obtained from the Soviet Union during the Cold War era of the 1980s, when the left-wing Sandinista government then in power in Nicaragua was fighting a civil war against right-wing rebels.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said during his November 2003 trip to Nicaragua that the nation's stockpile of shoulder-fired, surface-to-air missiles did not have a role to play in Central America's current political climate.

Powell said the missiles did not provide security for Nicaragua, nor were they necessary for establishing the region's balance of forces. 

Instead, Powell said, the missiles were a burden on the nation's military and a potential danger — and should be entirely eliminated.

Chile will permit divorce despite church opposition
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

SANTIAGO, Chile — A new law has legalized divorce for the first time, despite opposition from the Roman Catholic church.  President Ricardo Lagos signed the bill into law Friday, ending nine years of debate on the issue.

President Lagos said the law, which does not take effect for six months, is in line with the will of 
Chilean citizens. More than 500,000 separated Chileans will be able to formally divorce in November.

But the Catholic Church says the measure will hurt families. Lagos invited Cardinal Francisco Javier Errazuriz to the signing ceremony at the presidential palace, but he did not attend.

Under the new law, couples who agree to be separated will have to wait one year before being allowed to divorce. Couples where only one spouse wants to end the marriage will be required to wait three years. Couples seeking a divorce must also go through a mediation process.

The new law overturns one in place since 1884.

German youth admits unleashing latest e-virus
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Germany authorities say an 18-year-old high school student has admitted creating the Sasser computer worm that recently has plagued computers around the world.

Police in Lower Saxony State arrested the youth Friday after a search of his parents' home. Authorities have not released information about his identity. 

The Sasser worm exploits a flaw in the Microsoft 

Windows operating system software, causing some computers to crash and reboot repeatedly. The infection has slowed companies and government agencies who use computers.

The worm struck May 1. It spread widely over the Internet, infecting millions of computers worldwide and is expected to infect many more before running its course.

Microsoft and computer security firms have issued instructions about how to avoid infection and remove the worm. 

Jo Stuart
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