Weinstein enters A-G post

Can a defense lawyer for 3 decades shift gears and prosecute?

January 29, 2010 03:44
Incoming Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein.

weinstein 311. (photo credit: Channel 2)

Although Yehuda Weinstein may not have been Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman’s first choice for the post of attorney-general, it is hard to find anyone in the legal community who has anything but praise for the appointment.

Weinstein, who opened his own practice in 1979, is one of the most successful lawyers in the country. As such he has represented prominent and powerful people including Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, prime minister Ehud Olmert, president Ezer Weizman, former Shas party leader Aryeh Deri, and former justice minister Yossi Beilin.

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Last week, he signed an agreement with the government to prevent conflicts of interest that might arise from his previous activities as a private attorney and his current responsibilities as attorney-general. Among other things, he promised not to intervene in the 28 cases his office was involved in at the time of his appointment.

Like his predecessor, Menahem Mazuz, Yehuda Weinstein is a self-made man.

Born in Tel Aviv on April 19, 1944, he grew up in the Florentin neighborhood. His parents had immigrated to Palestine from Poland during the 1930s.

In his youth, Weinstein was an athlete and won the Israeli youth boxing championship. Later, he served in the paratroopers.

He received a BA in law from Tel Aviv University (1972) and an MA from Bar-Ilan University.

He is married and has three children.

After his graduation, Weinstein worked for the Central District Attorney’s Office as a prosecutor until he went into private practice.

According to his company’s Dunn and Bradstreet profile, “The firm specializes in all areas of white-collar crime, including offenses by public officials, violations of Israel’s Penal Code, violations of securities law, violations of company law and offenses in the banking sector. The firm also specializes in the area of extradition law, as well as in representing individuals suspected or accused of negligence offenses. In addition, the firm represents public figures testifying before inquiry commissions.”

If anything, it is his very success as a private lawyer that could be his greatest drawback as attorney-general. Many of the clients that Weinstein represents or is indirectly associated with are still involved in criminal cases that are being investigated by the system that he will now head or prosecute in court. The following is a list of the more prominent ones:

Ehud Olmert: On trial in Jerusalem District Court. Weinstein was asked to join the defense team headed by his close friend, attorney Eli Zohar, and was put in charge of the Rishontours affair, perhaps the most damaging of the allegations that Olmert will have to contend with in his trial.

Avigdor Lieberman: The prosecution has yet to decide whether to indict Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Weinstein represented Russian oligarch Oleg Dripska in a civil lawsuit against Michael Charnoy, a close friend of the foreign minister. A case could be made here for claiming a conflict interests, though it is not part of Weinstein’s agreement with the state.

Tax Authority: Weinstein represented former Tax Commissioner Eitan Rob, who was a suspect in the affair in which Rob’s successor, Jacky Matza, businessmen Yaakov Ben-Gur and Yoram Karshi, Olmert’s close aid Shula Zaken and others are accused of giving and accepting bribes and other acts of corruption.

Yaakov Weinroth: Weinstein is a close friend of Weinroth’s and the two have worked on cases together. Weinroth is on trial on bribery charges.

Dan Cohen: Weinstein represented former Southern District judge Dan Cohen, whom Israel is seeking to extradite from Peru after indicting him on charges of accepting bribes from the Rogozin Company and the German-based Siemens Company while serving on the Israel Electric Corporation board of directors.

Given that he has been a defense lawyer for three decades, some observers have expressed concern that Weinstein will ease up on the campaign waged by Mazuz and State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss to fight political corruption. Weinstein himself has indicated that the state prosecution has been too tough on politicians.

“We are not an especially corrupt country and we don’t have to look for corruption under every tree,” he recently told the internet news site Ynet. “The state attorney’s office seems to be slipping towards disproportionality.”

In an interview with the business daily Globes, Weinstein said, “I have the feeling that we sometimes create corruption out of nothing. We seize upon marginal matters, invest in them a great deal of energy and resources and end up with nothing. As a society, we don’t need this. We have to fight against real, not imaginary, crime.”

This approach, not exactly surprising from a defense lawyer who has represented many of the public figures who have been investigated in the anti-corruption campaign, does not seem to worry legal experts.

“It’s clear that someone who was a criminal lawyer in complex cases brings with him rich experience and a sense that he is a first-class professional,” said Mordechai Kremnitzer, a professor of criminal law at Hebrew University and Vice President for Research on Democracy at the Israel Democracy Institute. “There is no reason to think he can’t switch cassettes from a defense lawyer to a prosecutor. A pro like him should be able to do so.”

Another question mark regarding Weinstein is his lack of experience in administrative law. Kremnitzer said it was virtually impossible to find an outstanding lawyer with experience in both administrative and criminal law. For that reason, the told The Jerusalem Post, he favors splitting the post of the attorney-general into two separate positions.

Prof. Yoram Shahar, a criminal law expert from the Interdisciplinary Center – Herzliya, warmly welcomed the choice an attorney-general from the private sector. “It was absolutely the healthiest thing to do – to vary the kind of appointment.”

Shahar said that until now senior lawyers in the public service had been too complacent about winning the top public service jobs, while private lawyers had given up thinking about public service because they felt there was no room for them.

Weinstein received well wishes and lavish praise from a host of his colleagues in the private sector, including Yehoshua Resnick, Zion Amir, David Liba’i, Nevot Tel-Tzur, Jacques Chen and Israel Bar chairman Yori Geiron.

But perhaps the warmest accolades came from his close friend for many years, Eli Zohar. “He’s a very talented man and an original legal thinker,” he told The Jerusalem Post. “He knows how to read the court and how to conduct himself in such a way as to create a dialogue with the judges, and he does this in a congenial and collegial way, without tricks and spins. He is the model of an honest and fair lawyer.”

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