Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Former Supreme Court justice Eliezer Goldberg surprised the legal establishment on Thursday by recommending extending the authority of the new Justice Ministry oversight “czar” over the state prosecution to include the attorney- general.
Goldberg, who released a report on Thursday on disputes regarding oversight, is also a former representative for public complaints against judges. He was appointed by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked in June as a mediator accepted by the oversight czar and former judge Hila Gristol, Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein (who helped spearhead the new oversight body) and the union of state prosecutors, to resolve a dispute over oversight.
The state prosecutors had been striking on-and-off for months against the new body, claiming it would help politicians pressure them not to prosecute corruption and generally reduce their independence and impartiality.
A union of state prosecutors had been prepared to accept general criticism of particular district attorney’s offices, but not specific criticisms of individual prosecutors.
The strikes meant a refusal by rank and file state prosecutors to cooperate with the body as it performed its oversight and filed its first reports, including its most recent one in April.
Goldberg’s report did propose a compromise to resolve the dispute between Gristol and the state prosecutors; he supported preserving Gristol’s office and its general powers, but suggested new limits to those powers especially regarding complaints against individual prosecutors.
He also said that Gristol’s office should be anchored in legislation and not left as a body that only exists on the basis of a cabinet decision.
Despite Goldberg’s overall support for Gristol, the state prosecutors union homed in on the new limits he recommended on Gristol’s authority and treated the report as a victory.
Some of the proposed limits included that Gristol’s office “will not be allowed to address anonymous complaints,” prosecutors will not have to “respond to complaints” unless her office “has already decided that the complaint requires clarification” and is not blatantly frivolous, complaints will mostly not be addressed “until after the complained about legal proceeding has concluded,” and complaints involving “substantive legal interpretations” or “professional discretion” will not be addressed.
But on top of the compromise, the ostensible reason the report was to be published, Goldberg added in his unrelated surprise recommendation about the office of the attorney-general being under the oversight czar’s authority.
The turn of events carries some irony since Weinstein is known to fiercely oppose any oversight of his office as invading his independence as the legal gatekeeper, but was instrumental in creating Gristol’s office – a process that now could have consequences for him beyond his control.
Goldberg even cited Weinstein’s vehement push in their conversations to drop the idea of oversight over his office, but he respectfully disagreed, finding that no public servant should be beyond oversight.
Shaked is known to want checks on the attorney-general’s power. She supported inserting the issue into Goldberg’s mandate and pushed at a conference on Wednesday for a less aggressive attorney-general who acts more passively as the state’s lawyer.
The Justice Ministry released a single statement on behalf of Shaked and Weinstein thanking Goldberg for his recommendations and promising to “seriously weigh them” – though the statement obscured the vast chasm in how the two top legal officials will likely react to the recommendation.