Tomas Rychly has been appointed a Judge on the Supreme Administrative Court of the Czech Republic, and the Wolf Theiss Prague Managing Partner will be leaving Wolf Theiss sometime early in 2017 to take up his new duties. In making that move, Rychly becomes the first major commercial law firm lawyer ever to serve on the Czech judiciary.
Although the origins of the Supreme Administrative Court (SAC) can be traced back to the Austro-Hungarian empire, in its current form it is much more recent. The Czech government committed itself to the creation of a court to hear challenges of administrative decisions in its 1992 Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms Resolution, and the Parliament finally got around to fulfilling that promise a decade later, in January 1, 2003, when it passed the Code of Administrative Justice.
According to Rychly, the mandate of the SAC is “very very broad.” The court is the highest authority on issues of procedural and administrative propriety, has jurisdiction over many political matters (such as the formation and closure of political parties, jurisdictional boundaries between government entities, and the eligibility of candidates for public office), and adjudicates in disciplinary proceedings against judges and state prosecutors. It is the court of second instance in actions against the decisions of authorities.
Rychly learned that he had been nominated by a friend – a current judge on the court – in the spring of 2016, and what followed was several months of criminal and background checks and the preparation of a formal biography and profile for the review and consideration of President of the Court Josef Baxa.
Baxa was obviously satisfied, and the Judiciary Committee provided its formal consent after its plenary session on August 31. Baxa explained to CEE Legal Matters that, “I believe that Tomas Rychly will be a good judge to our Court and that by appointing him we will inspire other successful lawyers from the private sector who could follow his steps in the future.”
Rychly says he was fully transparent with Wolf Theiss throughout the process. “It’s very different from the lateral hiring process,” he laughs, noting that, as he wasn’t moving to a competitor, there was less need for caution. “The firm was very supportive and I appreciate it very much.” And, once the Judiciary Committee consented to his appointment, Rychly began the process of handing over his Wolf Theiss clients to his colleagues.
Rychly’s official start date at the Court hasn’t been set yet, as he awaits the essentially pro forma approval of his appointment by the Czech Ministry of Justice. He will keep practicing, in a limited way, until that start date is announced. “I’m very grateful to them,” he says of Wolf Theiss for allowing him to stay involved as much as possible in the interim. And he’s not concerned about the delay between his nomination and the date he takes his seat on the bench, saying, “the advantage of an extended period is it allows for a smooth transition.”
Once he is gone, however, friend and Wolf Theiss Co-Managing Partner Jan Myska will take over. “It’s up to him and Wolf Theiss whether they will replace me,” says Rychly, who notes that “the team is in very good shape, and with four Counsels, it is almost senior heavy.”
Rychly’s colleague say they will miss him. Ron Given, for one, who was resident in the Prague office in 2013-2015, says that Rychly’s arrival at the firm in 2011, “immediately provided the energy and leadership that has set our entire team there on the positive course that continues to this day. Jan Myska’s task in taking over management in Prague has been made a lot easier by what Tomas set in motion.” Given describes Rychly as “a terrific example of the sort of lawyer it takes to succeed in today’s very competitive market” and says that “he starts with a passion for preparation, legal excellence, and an unwavering client focus” and “builds on that with a relentless drive for professional business development done in a way I particularly admire.” Given says that, “it is never just about Tomas. He is the perfect example of genuine collaboration and really cares about every member of his team, no matter how junior. Far too few lawyers can honestly add that attribute to their resumes. Tomas Rychly can.”
Given describes the firm’s loss as the Czech Republic’s gain. “All of us would, of course, prefer that Tomas just stay where he is but we must and do respect his decision to take his considerable talents to the bench. Although the Supreme Administrative Court in the Czech Republic is already one of the best and most respected institutions in the country, Tomas improves everything he touches, and that will surely also be the case with respect to the court. His many years of full engagement in the real world practice of the law give him a unique perspective that will surely inform and provide a basis for decisions that will be good for the development of law in the Czech Republic.”
Myska, who joined Wolf Theiss from rival Allen & Overy in the spring of 2015, expressed conflicting emotions on his colleague’s decision to move on, saying “I am of course extremely sad to lose Tomas as my Partner and as one of the best and closest colleagues as well as friends I ever worked with, however, at the same time I am very proud of his exceptional achievement and I wish him all the best in his new professional career. The last 19 months of our cooperation after rejoining our working paths after almost 12 years were simply the best in the last couple of years and, thanks to him, I am enjoying legal work very much again.”
This Article was originally published in Issue 3.6 of the CEE Legal Matters Magazine. If you would like to receive a hard copy of the magazine, you can subscribe here.