Israel Bar Association President Efi Nave announced his resignation on Thursday in the wake of the “Sex-for-Judgeships” Affair for which he is under criminal investigation.
“I hereby announce my resignation as president of the Bar Association. I decided to do so because the association is very important and precious to me,” said Nave, wishing his replacement success.
New elections are due to be held within 30 to 45 days.
Lawyer Uri Keinan will serve as interim president.
Earlier on Thursday, Nave was questioned for the second time by the Lahav 433 National Crime Unit on suspicion of promoting judicial candidates in exchange for sexual favors.
Nave is suspected of having a sexual relationship with a female lawyer appointed as a magistrate’s judge, as well as another female lawyer whose husband is a magistrate’s judge and was seeking promotion to become a district judge.
The magistrate’s judge, the wife of the second magistrate’s judge and Nave were all questioned on Wednesday nearly all day long, with all three being remanded to house arrest by Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court Judge Ala Masrawa.
At the hearing on late Wednesday and in media appearances, Nave’s lawyer Boaz Ben Zur presented Nave’s narrative, which deemphasized the specifics of his relationships with the two women, while emphasizing that regardless of the relationships, he was not involved in issues relating to the judges’ advancement.
Ben Zur said that even though Nave has been on the Judicial Selection Committee since January 2018, he was not on the committee at the time the judges’ advancement was under discussion.
Police at the hearing replied that Nave controlled two members of the Judicial Selection Committee who represented the Bar Association and may have had a strong influence on others.
Many politicians have lashed out at Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked for her closeness and alliance with Nave, and both she and Supreme Court President Esther Hayut are expected to be called by the police as witnesses, though not as suspects.
Former Tel Aviv District Court deputy president Oded Mudrick told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday that having an investigation with allegations against judges and the Israel Bar Association president for bribery “is obviously an awful thing... the basis for judges’ work is that the public feels that they have clean hands.”
At the same time, Mudrick, who teaches at Ariel University and is part of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new legal team, said that “I know from experience that the start of an investigation is not the same as the end. Maybe it will end up not as bad,” adding that maybe the main suspects have committed “bad acts, but not criminal ones.”
With some of the broader accusations against the Judicial Selection Committee, it was important to Mudrick to emphasize that over 70 years, thousands of judges have been appointed and that the number of them who have broken criminal law is slim.
“We need to keep things in proportion... maybe this is a bad” moment, but “the public can still go to court and feel confident they will receive justice,” he said.
Addressing some of the specific factual arguments, Mudrick said that “even if you can prove a romantic connection, it does not prove that one of the suspects talked to the other about a bribe for being a judge... It raises the suspicion, so it needs to be checked, but maybe it’s just a case of regular ‘protexia’ [favoritism]... then it would be problematic, but not illegal.”
The former judge also said that making a legal causation argument that Nave committed bribery, or aided an abetted bribery, was based on the influence he had on members of the Judicial Selection Committee when he was not part of it, calling this far from clear.
This is especially true, he said, if the representatives themselves did not know about the background between Nave and the judicial candidates.
He said it did not mean that police might not be able to prove a case of influence on the committee, but that it could be difficult.
Mudrick was also unsure if the two judges connected to the case would face either criminal consequences or expulsion from the bench since it is possible that “they had an improper romantic connection,” which would not warrant expulsion.
He added that it might depend on whether the relationship occurred at the same time that their judicial advancement was in question, whether it was a one-time limited romantic connection or more extensive.
Regarding calls by many for a state commission of inquiry into the judicial appointments during Nave and Shaked’s tenure, Mudrick said that while it is legitimate to debate whether Israel’s system of appointing judges can be improved, he does not see the current case changing the 60-year-old debate.
He pushed back against those who said that the US system of selecting judges works better, saying many aspects of the system are highly politicized and that the whole structure of the US presidential democracy is different from that of Israeli parliamentary.
In any event, he said that he supports Shaked’s instincts for appointing judges in terms of greater “pluralism in the world view of judges. It is good to do what she has done,” noting that in any case “sometimes judges picked for one ideology have ended up on the other side.”
He did advocate a more open process for judicial appointments saying that even if the final proceedings of the committee needed to remain secret, then the initial interviews of candidates by the subcommittee could be made public.
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