Bezeq shareholder Shaul Elovich and Tel Aviv Court Judge Ronit Poznanski-Katz.
(photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/ISRAELI JUSTICE MINISTRY SPOKESPERSON'S OFFICE)
Eliezer Rivlin, the Representative for Judicial Complaints, has decided that the judge who texted with a government lawyer in the pretrial hearings in Case 4000 did not commit any crimes, but she should be referred for disciplinary action.
Rivlin, a former deputy president of the Supreme Court, said on Tuesday that the Special Court for Judicial Discipline should decide what measures to take against Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court Judge Ronit Poznansky-Katz.
The judicial branch must look deeper into the general issue of problematic contacts between judges and government lawyers in the context of detention hearings, he said.
More specifically, Rivlin cited a phenomenon of judges and government lawyers meeting too frequently in judges’ chambers without defense lawyers present.
Some judges and prosecutors have justified some of these meetings as necessary for reviewing classified reports and explaining certain details in-depth so that the judge will not get lost on a complex matter once in court.
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and Supreme Court President Esther Hayut issued a joint statement saying they would consider how to deal with Poznansky-Katz. They lead the state’s Judicial Committee that has the power to remove judges, as does the Special Court for Judicial Discipline.
Late Sunday night, Pozansky-Katz recused herself from Case 4000, the so-called Bezeq-Walla! case, after she was caught exchanging inappropriate text messages with Israel Securities Authority attorney Eran Shaham-Shavit about detention proceedings.
Likud MK Nurit Koren, who is also part of the Judicial Committee, slammed Rivlin’s decision, saying he was treating the judge with kid gloves. She also criticized him for not issuing a ruling about Shaham-Shavit – though that is within the authority of the Representative for Government Officials and not within Rivlin’s authority.
Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit has ordered a disciplinary probe of Shaham-Shavit, who was suspended pending completion of the probe against him. But no decision had been announced by press time.
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan criticized the judicial branch and the prosecution in general for going too easy on their own when they act improperly.
He recalled the case of a senior judge who retired early when it was discovered that she had forged several court transcripts. She was not fired and received her full pension.
However, in the past, Shaked has turned to Rivlin on a number of major sensitive issues and has often followed his recommendations.
“We can already say that it seems that there are some lessons of system-wide flaws that we can learn from this incident,” she said on Monday.
Shaked said she was ready to convene the state’s Judicial Committee to expel Poznansky-Katz if the findings against her are severe enough.
She emphasized that courts must seriously weigh suspects’ rights at detention hearings, and that Israel is not a corrupt country, as a corrupt country would not have allowed Channel 10 News to air a report that broke the entire story.
The texting between Poznansky-Katz and Shaham-Shavit showed them planning how many days of detention various suspects in Case 4000 would get.
Coordination, in which defense lawyers get to weigh in on arguments by the state outside the public process, can be grounds for overturning an extended detention order.
However, Judge Ala Masrawa, who has replaced Poznansky-Katz in handling this case, found on Monday that the public interest in keeping the suspects in custody to fully enable the police investigation into Case 4000 trumped the harm to the suspects’ rights. His decision was confirmed by the Tel Aviv District Court on Tuesday.
In any case, Poznansky-Katz’s actions as a pretrial judge would not have impacted any future trial, since the trial judge is nearly always different than the pretrial judge.
Poznansky-Katz said she had started to text with Shaham-Shavit simply to coordinate hearing times and in the absence of having a law clerk. But Rivlin said she had gone beyond that limited purpose, and that judges texting with government lawyers inherently held the prospect of a slippery slope and violating rules.
The Court Spokesman’s Office said Poznansky-Katz would not conduct any further in-court hearings pending the completion of the disciplinary process, adding that she was about to enter a sabbatical year.
The Bezeq-Walla! case is an investigation into allegations that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered top aide Shlomo Filber, whom he installed as director-general of the Communications Ministry, to make policy rulings in favor of the telecommunications giant. In exchange, the news site Walla! is alleged to have agreed to give positive news coverage to Netanyahu as dictated by his aide, Nir Hefetz, and possibly by his wife, Sara Netanyahu.
The go-between in the alleged exchange is said to be Shaul Elovitch, who owns both Walla! and a controlling interest in Bezeq.