Former prime minister Ehud Olmert arrives at the Supreme Court..
(photo credit: EMIL SALMAN/POOL)
Former prime minister Ehud Olmert fought before the Supreme Court on Thursday to stay out of jail pending the appeal of his bribery conviction and six-year jail sentence in the Holyland trial.
Justice Noam Sohlberg heard the arguments and will decide Olmert’s fate on Monday, along with the fate of seven others convicted in the Holyland trial – among them former Jerusalem mayor Uri Lupolianski.
The stakes are high. If Olmert fails, he will become the first prime minister in history to enter prison. If he succeeds, he might avoid jail time entirely with a successful appeal, or at least avoid it for several months to a couple of years, as former president Moshe Katsav succeeded in doing (though he did eventually go to jail).
The only convicted person who is already serving jail time is Olmert’s former chief of staff Shula Zaken, who started serving her prison sentence on July 15. She received by far the shortest sentence – 11 months (most sentences range between three and seven years) – as part of a plea bargain.
Although Olmert’s sentence has already been delayed by consent from his May 13 sentencing day, the state has stridently opposed any further significant delay in the start of his or the other convicted persons’ jail sentences.
It has 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.
Olmert’s lawyer Navit Negev – who replaced Eli Zohar, his lawyer from the trial, as lead counsel for the Supreme Court proceedings – 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.
Other lawyers pointed out that Supreme Court President Asher D. Grunis had effectively already acknowledged the case’s complexity by appointing an unusual five-justice panel to hear the appeal, even though it does not involve constitutional issues where broader panels are more common.
In view of that real possibility of success, the brief says, it would be unjust and tremendously harmful to place Olmert in jail prematurely – that is, prior to a decision on his appeal.
The brief also repeatedly refers to the court’s decision to allow Katsav to remain out of jail pending his appeal, and demands that Olmert be treated equally and not discriminated against in that regard.
It does not help Olmert that he is being treated as part of a group, whereas Katsav stood alone. The court would likely need to allow the whole group to go free if it made an exception for Olmert.
In Olmert’s favor, many have criticized his six-year sentence as overly harsh, so the court may keep him out of jail for now to reduce his sentence, even if it does not believe it will reverse his conviction.