(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Supreme Court president Esther Hayut announced on Sunday new regulations that will bind interactions between judges and prosecutors, generally by preventing them from holding one-on-one meetings.
Hayut’s new regulations come in the aftermath of the February “texting judge” scandal, when a judge handling a detention hearing in one of the high-profile criminal investigations connected with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was caught doing legally improper texting with a prosecutor.
In mid-April, a special judicial disciplinary panel convicted that judge, Ronit Pozansky-Katz, of conduct unbecoming a judge as part of a plea bargain.
In February, Representative for Judicial Complaints Eliezer Rivlin decided that Pozansky-Katz’s texting with a government lawyer regarding the Case 4000
pretrial hearings did not commit any crimes, but should be referred for disciplinary action.
He also said the judicial branch must look deeper into the general issue of problematic contacts between judges and government lawyers in the context of detention hearings.
Hayut’s decision on Sunday was the culmination of that recommendation after she appointed a special judicial task force to collect views and facts regarding the issue from judges, police, prosecutors and defense lawyers.
Overall, Hayut has now formally banned any direct communication between judges and prosecutors that does not occur in a court room and on the record.
More specifically, many prosecutors have sometimes made contact with judges or their personal staff to make progress on detention hearings after formal business hours.
Under the new regulations, all requests must be filed through the main clerk’s office, which is separate from the judge’s personal staff and only during business hours.
In exceptional cases – in which there are issues with voluminous documents, a need for an emergency hearing or a need for a classified hearing – a formal motion must be filed for permission for a special meeting with the judge, and even that meeting must be officially recorded and held in the court room.
Hayut’s decision was praised by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and the Israel Bar Association.
Earlier in February, Pozansky-Katz stepped down from the “Bezeq case” after she was caught exchanging text messages with Israel Securities Authority attorney Eran Shaham-Shavit about detention proceedings.
Photographs of the texting between Pozansky-Katz and Shaham-Shavit appeared to show them planning how many days of detention various suspects in Case 4000 would get.
Coordination, in which defense lawyers get to weigh in on arguments by the state outside the public process, can be grounds for overturning an extended detention order.The “Bezeq case”
is an investigation into allegations that Netanyahu ordered his top aide, Shlomo Filber, whom he installed as director-general of the Communications Ministry, to make policy rulings in favor of the telecommunications giant.
In exchange, the news site Walla is alleged to have agreed to give positive news coverage to Netanyahu as dictated by his aide, Nir Hefetz, and possibly by his wife, Sara.
The go-between in the alleged exchange is said to be Shaul Elovitch, who owns both Walla and Bezeq.
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