Can a leopard change its spots? Strategic behavior versus professional role conception during Ukraine's 2014 court chair elections

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Do judges respond to institutional and strategic incentives or do they strictly follow dominant professional role conceptions? This article weighs in by exploring whether an ideational shift toward judicial empowerment and independence can germinate from institutional reforms. Ukraine's 2014 Euromaidan revolution and the comprehensive judicial reform adopted in its wake provide a test of the competing theoretical accounts. A judicial lustration law sacked all incumbent court chairs, who had been appointed by the executive, and gave Ukrainian judges the right to elect new chairs via secret ballot. I analyze this radical step toward judicial self-government using an original data set with individual- and court-level data. The key finding is that less than a fifth of Ukrainian judges embraced their newly granted agency and elected a new chair for their court, whereas the overwhelming majority followed dominant professional norms of deference and reelected the sacked court chairs. This finding holds for all rungs of the judicial hierarchy and for all regions of Ukraine. Even protégés of ousted president Yanukovych won the secret ballot vote by their peers more often than they lost it. Beyond Ukraine, these results suggest that empowering individual judges in the highly hierarchical structure of a civil law judiciary is unlikely to lead to a judicial behavior shift, at least in the short run.




Popova, M. (2020). Can a leopard change its spots? Strategic behavior versus professional role conception during Ukraine’s 2014 court chair elections. Law and Policy, 42(4), 365–381.

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