Analysis: Dropping bombshells in the courtroom

The first days of the Ehud Olmert trial brought out dramatic revelations.

July 4, 2012 06:18
4 minute read.
FORMER PRIME MINISTER Ehud Olmert in court

FORMER PRIME MINISTER Ehud Olmert in court 370. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)


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The first days of the Ehud Olmert trial brought out dramatic revelations which, if true, expose an even more brazen, audacious and shameless underworld of illegal wheeling and dealing within the government offices, with oversight of construction and the Jerusalem municipality, than even was previously imagined.

The alleged systematic bribery lasted for over a decade, spanning the tenures of two mayors, one of whom, also later served as prime minister.

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And yet, with earthshaking accusations being flung minute by minute by the state’s key witness, officially known only as “SD” under a gag order, at the former prime minister, former Jerusalem mayor Uri Lupolianski and 14 other high-profile defendants, the biggest bombshell of the week came outside the confines of the Tel Aviv courtroom, from another court in Jerusalem.

On the same day the Holyland trial started in Tel Aviv, the Jerusalem court announced that it will render its verdict next week in Olmert’s first corruption trial which includes the Rishon Tours affair, the cash envelopes affair and allegations of systematic preferential treatment by Olmert in his public capacity as a minister. Life has startling coincidences, but it is unlikely that this was one of them.

A judge’s’ main concern generally is, and must be, to conduct himself as any reasonable judge would, but the race to make news about Olmert before the new Holyland saga takes over the public’s imagination is on. There can also be no mistake about the massive consequences that the verdict in the first Olmert case will have for the Holyland trial, even though technically there is no connection.

If Olmert is convicted on July 10, the Holyland trial will still have significant importance. But Olmert will already have been convicted. The bombshell that matters the most will already have exploded. The nation will already have changed. The Holyland trial will become the mere sequel to the real case which dethroned a former king.

There are concrete consequences for the state’s prosecution. It must do its job based on professional considerations first. But a case of this size is an investment. Will the state continue to task as many attorneys and resources fulltime into the Holyland case, when the “glory” of the case is already taken by the first Olmert conviction? The Holyland trial is a massive cost for the state and it drains resources and manpower from other key cases. The project was worth it to dethrone Olmert. It is a fantastical highprofile case no matter what – but will it warrant the same continued investment? Like campaigns, high-level legal battles – especially in fraud cases, which are difficult to prove due to having to piece together complex puzzles – presenting characters and dates in a way which makes a compelling overall picture, can be heavily influenced by who is willing to pour in more resources to exhaust the other side and research and expose their weaknesses.

The defense almost always has some advantage in resources, but the balance can be completely tipped and the state can start trying to shorten its case, dispense with witnesses and try to suffice with proving its case less comprehensively based on a smaller time and money investment. This often means more holes for the defense to exploit.

Judge Rozen may also be influenced by the ruling.

The judge has already shown that to shorten what will already be an unwieldy marathon of a trial, he is ready to bulldoze the dozens of defense attorneys into holding back most of their customary procedural objections, and even some substantive ones.

Even before the Jerusalem court announcement on day one, Rozen made a significant decision to effectively put off all objections to the veracity of SD’s documents until a later date. Although he added that this does not impact the weight he will give the documents, if the judge was feeling doubtful, he could have allowed challenges to documents from the start. This also would have killed the rhythm and flow of the state’s case. Instead, the state has complete control over the initial momentum.

Rozen was already prepared to sacrifice the defense attorneys’ maneuverability and to pressure them into making shorter and less frequent arguments when he had before him the potential to be the first judge to convict Olmert.

On the third day of the trial, Rozen took the unorthodox time-saving measure of ordering that the trial will run on parallel tracks: the morning with SD testifying, and the afternoon with other state witnesses.

Rozen’s order came over the objection of both the defense and the prosecution, an unusual combination, since it will wreak havoc on their ability to play the case out on one contained front at a time.

All of this will be impacted by a conviction.

He may increase the pressure on defense attorneys even more to drop objections, witnesses and arguments in order to be done with the case.

But what if Olmert is acquitted in the Jerusalem case? On one hand, the state prosecutor will likely be more ready to invest in the case. The sought after conviction and dethroning of Olmert will still be in play. On the other hand, the court may also suddenly have a greater interest in drawing out the case.

Rozen may decide to slow the trial and give the defense attorneys more slack to poke holes in the state’s case.

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