Crime scene [illustrative].
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)
The Jerusalem District Court on Sunday convicted two lawyers of improper conduct for helping – with mysterious fund transfers – a client who ordered the murder of a judge.
The ruling could have wide-ranging implications in placing a greater duty on lawyers to question their clients’ requests, if the requests appear suspicious, even if lawyers have no definite information that the requests involve illegality.
The two lawyers are Sagiv Bar Shalom and Mor Garti, both of whom have represented Yitzhak Zuziashvili, who is serving prison time for ordering the murder of Tel Aviv judge Adi Azar in July 2004.
The court cited the original 2010 ethics complaint against the two by the Israel Bar Association as stating that they may have acted as middlemen for transferring funds between Zuziashvili and the man he hired to kill Azar.
The case came to the court on an appeal by the Bar’s ethics committee to reverse the lawyers’ 2014 acquittals by the national court for lawyer ethics and to reinstate their convictions by the lower regional court for lawyer ethics.
The appeal also sought to stiffen the lawyers’ original suspensions – of three to six months – from working as lawyers.
The court said that Bar Shalom agreed to a request by Zuziashvili to receive an envelope on his behalf from another contact of Zuziashvili and to transfer the envelope to his other lawyer, Garti.
Bar Shalom said he thought the envelope would contain a document, but upon receiving it under suspicious circumstances at a highway junction, he immediately noted that it was an envelope packed with cash.
He transferred the funds to Garti, who then transferred the funds to another contact of Zuziashvili (the man whom the original complaint said was involved in the murder of Azar).
Before transferring the funds to Zuziashvili’s final contact, Garti opened the envelope and found not only the $1,000 he was owed by Zuziashvili for legal services but an additional unexpected $19,000.
When he called Zuziashvili for an explanation of what to do with the remaining funds, Zuziashvili sent his contact to pick them up.
The national court for lawyer ethics found that the circumstances did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the two lawyers knew or should have known that the funds could be connected with any illegality.
Despite the Jerusalem District Court’s ruling, it did not imply that the lawyers knew about or were involved in planning the murder.
The court sent the case back to the national court for lawyer ethics to review whether the punishment for the conviction should be stiffened, as the Bar requested, now that the conviction was upheld.