No double standard

Supreme Court Justice's Yoram Danziger must be weighed on the same scales as Mr. and Ms. Average Israeli; different categories aren't police business.

September 24, 2011 22:21
3 minute read.
Yoram Danziger

Danziger311. (photo credit: Courts Administration)

There’s no envying Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein, entrusted with the ultimate decision of whether to cut short Supreme Court Justice’s Yoram Danziger’s promising career or to facilitate his return to the bench. Weinstein is sure to draw fire no matter what he chooses.

This is no less than a gripping legal drama.

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At its heart are the ongoing travails of Bat Yam’s Mayor Shlomo Lahiani, due to be indicted on a variety of corruption charges. During Lahiani’s interrogation it emerged that before Danziger’s Supreme Court appointment in 2007, he advised Lahiani free of charge – and there are were ties between the two. This generated suspicions of bribery.

Danziger took a leave of absence and thereby became Israel’s first Supreme Court justice questioned under caution in the context of a criminal case.

Yet last week the police opined – on the grounds of “no case to answer” – against indicting Danziger. Yet almost immediately, allegations surfaced that the prosecution preferred the “insufficient evidence” justification for discontinuing proceedings. The prosecution subsequently denied this but meanwhile innuendo arose of disagreement along these lines within the police itself.

The distinction is key. If Danziger is let off the hook because police investigators judge him blameless, then he can resume his Supreme Court duties without fuss. If the police contend, however, that he might be guilty but that not enough proof could be dug up against him, then a dark cloud would remain hanging over Danziger.

Weinstein, whose job involves pleading cases before the Supreme Court, is in effect saddled with the quandary of whether to unseat one of its most original and nonconformist justices.

The fact that this comes up at all is a quirk of our legal system, which differentiates between reasons not to try a suspect. Cogent arguments can be brought up against this legal oddity.

Moreover, our police is empowered to recommend to prosecutors whether or not to prosecute. This shouldn’t be the way things work. The results of the police’s investigations ought to be passed on to the prosecution, which, we hope, is capable of drawing its own legal conclusions.

In this very case, the police admitted to wrongdoings regarding how Lahiani was detained in December 2009, with galling, gratuitous fanfare before invited TV crews. Lahiani’s relatives and top cronies were remanded as his home and office were raided, also amid orchestrated ballyhoo. It quite resembled the recent sensation-mongering that accompanied the arrest of singer Margalit Tsanani.

Albeit in somewhat less lurid tones, Danziger too became a victim of crass police PR maneuvers and the consequent media circus. The uninhibited zeal to grab headlines and boost ratings could hurt anyone, but the greater a suspect’s fame, the greater incentive for prestige-craving cops and sleaze-spreading tabloids to collaborate.

Still, this same police is permitted to intimate, even when backing down from its accusations, that there’s no smoke without fire. Its equivocations on why a case is closed inevitably result in smearing reputations without the injured party able to mount any defense.

A trial can clear a defendant’s name but vague hints of culpability cannot be effectively rebutted in the absence of due process – i.e. witnesses’ testimony, evidence, cross-examination, verdict and appeals. The police needs to prove nothing to trash anyone.

Because this could happen to anyone, it should be everyone’s concern.

It shouldn’t be up to the police to advocate whether to press ahead with prosecution or not, and the force certainly shouldn’t be entitled to declare an individual innocent or just a lucky miscreant who beat the system and got away with wrongdoing.

A person who isn’t indicted – regardless of his or her public standing and the commotion drummed up in a given case – deserves the presumption of innocence no matter what the private hunches of police investigators.

Different categories of not-guilty are not and should never be police business.

In this sense Danziger must be weighed on the same scales as Mr. and Ms. Average Israeli.

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