Former prime minister Ehud Olmert arrives at the Supreme Court..
(photo credit: EMIL SALMAN/POOL)
The Supreme Court ruled on Monday that former prime minister Ehud Olmert and the seven others convicted in the Holyland Affair can stay out of jail pending their appeals of their convictions.
At the same time, the court hinted that Olmert and the others were still likely to end up in prison since many of their arguments on appeal were disagreements with the lower court on fact issues disguised as legal issues, which appeals courts are more willing to hear.
The ruling by Justice Noam Sohlberg will disappoint the state, which had opposed any delay, but the court moderated its ruling by saying that the appeal needed to take place within three months and could not be indefinitely delayed.
Even as the court tried to press the hearing forward, the decision could mean Olmert may be free from jail for much longer, even over a year, as only oral arguments must occur within three months, not the Supreme Court’s final decision.
Despite the court’s doubts about the arguments, Sohlberg said that Olmert’s issue of not having fully cross-examined the main state witness, who died mid-trial, and former mayor Uri Lupolianski’s issue that his “bribes” were donations to the prized charity Yad Sarah and other charities, were serious issues.
Olmert’s attorneys, Navit Negev and Iris Niv-Sabag, praised the decision, saying, “Olmert contended throughout that he did not accept any bribes nor did he commit any crime. Therefore, the Supreme Court ruled today that the appeal is not futile.”
The attorneys added that “Olmert is now being offered a genuine opportunity to have his claims heard in the Supreme Court appeal by an extended panel” of five justices.
Although Olmert’s six-year sentence had already been delayed by consent from his May 13 sentencing day, the state had stridently opposed any further significant delay in the start of his or the other convicted persons’ jail sentences.
It had argued that the rule on the issue follows the 1999 Shwartz case, which set the governing principle that jail sentences should usually not be significantly delayed, to send a clear message to lawbreakers.
Olmert’s lawyer Negev – who replaced Eli Zohar, his lawyer from the trial, as lead counsel for the Supreme Court proceedings – had said that though lower-court trial Judge David Rozen said he had considered Olmert’s special circumstances, he had only considered them negatively.
She implied that Rozen had improperly given him no positive credit for his service to the state as prime minister and in other roles.
In her legal brief on Olmert’s behalf, Negev wrote that the Shwartz case governed the issue, but that it allowed for an exception if the issues in a case were complex.
As such, she said, it supported her request for putting a hold on Olmert’s jail sentence, since his appeal raised serious and complex legal issues – such as Rozen improperly relying on an admittedly lying witness and a funds transfer with no documentary evidence.
Accordingly, she continued, Olmert’s appeal should have a presumption of success.
Construction and Housing Minister Uri Ariel said it was “saddening” that Olmert may end up serving jail time.
“Despite our disagreements, I am not happy about what he is going through,” he said. “I hope he will be found innocent. I wish a better year for all of Israel, including the current and former leadership. But we need to raise our norms.”Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.