Sigrid Maurer, newly appointed leader of the Austrian Green Party, can’t seem to get a break from her multi-year Austrian sexual harassment suit, that has had as many twists and turns as a daytime television court drama. On January 11th, she tweeted: ‘Today is the next episode and hopefully season finale of the popular series Bierwirt.’ Little did she know that the Wiener Landesgericht für Strafsachen (Vienna State Criminal Court) would be forced to adjourn once again, as a surprising new witness, ‘Willi’, was nowhere to be found.
The central plot: It all began when sexually demeaning messages appeared in her Facebook account from bar owner Albert Lastufka – or at least from the account in his name. Fed up with the online harassment, something experienced by many women in politics, she reposted the messages on Twitter, including his full name and address, in hopes of at least getting him to stop, and at best, perhaps, furthering public debate.
Then, in October 2018, in a decision many found shocking, Maurer was found guilty of defaming Lastufka, who owns a craft beer shop in Vienna’s 8th district. While the shop owner, who allegedly had called her a “dirty little Bitch!” among a litany of unsavory expressions, denied any connection to these messages and sued Maurer for defamation, in addition to damages to his business as a consequence of the public call-out. The court ruled in his favor, imposing a fine of €4,000 in damages, in addition to trial costs. The reason: Her defense had not proven conclusively that the Facebook messages were from him personally, only from his account. The computer was publicly accessible, Lastufka successfully argued. Anyone in his shop could have sent them. However the judge was critical of the law: “That what was done to you is not punishable is something that has to be dealt with separately,” he told Maurer.
Then in March 2019 – season two of Causa Bierwirt – the ruling was overturned. The bar had been set too high, the judge determined. Confident about the re-trial, Maurer felt “supported in her perception of the former decision as quixotic”. While re-examining the evidence, the judge identified “a certain likeness to life” and similarity to Lastufka’s typical syntax. The case re-opened in September 2019, but postponed due to Maurer re-entering parliament.
As proceedings re-opened a year later, in a plot twist that could inspire a thousand court dramas, new evidence emerged – a confession, allegedly written by a certain ‘Willi’, who according to Alfred Lastufka was a regular at the pub. The court began a search for this new character in the script, without even knowing his last name.
Which brings us to the 11th of January 2021. After an arduous search, a certain Wilhelm was identified within the circle of the now infamous craft beer pub. However, minutes before the proceedings were to start, Willi called to excuse himself due to illness. Police officers set off to confirm the report, but the witness was nowhere to be found. Once again, courts were forced to adjourn Causa Bierwirt until the 17th of February, when Maurer hopes that the case will finally be put to rest. “It has become quite a farce”.