Attorney Eli Zohar dismissed assertions Monday that Eitan Maoz, a colleague of his at Tel Aviv's M.Seligman & Co. law firm, should be dropped as a candidate for state attorney because Zohar represents Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in four criminal probes.
Zohar and Roy Blecher, another Seligman attorney, represent Olmert in the two official police investigations he currently faces, and two more possible investigations awaiting the decision of Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz.
Mazuz is due to decide on the probes immediately after Succot.
Zohar told Israel Radio the allegations that Maoz would be caught in a conflict of interests should he be appointed state attorney were unfounded.
Maoz, he said, would sever his ties with the office and his colleagues if he were named to the post.
The protests against the Maoz nomination came from the watchdog organization Ometz last week, and from two MKs, Shelly Yacimovich (Labor) and Arye Eldad (National Union-National Religious Party) who head the Knesset anti-corruption caucus, on Sunday. "The idea that a partner of the prime minister's attorneys will be in a key decision-making position regarding a suspect whom his partners represent is insane," the lawmakers wrote Mazuz, who heads the five-person search committee tasked with recommending a candidate to replace outgoing State Attorney Eran Shendar.
There is no denying that the protesters have a point. Obviously Maoz would cut his ties to his firm if appointed. That formal step, however, would not necessarily have the desired affect on personal and professional ties and loyalties that may have been built up over years of working side by side.
Perhaps Maoz has a statesmanlike personality and can separate between personal bonds and professional duties. But how can the search committee know if this is true from the rather cursory examination they will conduct regarding him.
This is particularly crucial question since it is the next state attorney and not Mazuz who will make the final decision on whether to indict Olmert on the allegations regarding the sale of the state's controlling interest in Bank Leumi. Furthermore, the state attorney will be formally in charge of the prosecutorial teams that will study the police evidence in the Cremieux Street investigation and in any other cases that may materialize. The prosecutors will then forward their conclusions to Mazuz for the final decision on whether to indict Olmert.
In short, the next state attorney will play a pivotal role in this particularly sensitive issue and, of course, the many others that will come up during his tenure.
Be that as it may, and granted the importance of the principle in the case of Maoz, the fact is that it is very unlikely that Maoz will be appointed.
Mazuz is under pressure from many colleagues in the law profession to choose an outstanding personality as his No. 2. In part, this response is a backlash to Mazuz's decision to appoint Shendar three years ago. Shendar is perceived among many legal experts as a weak personality who lacked expertise in criminal law and failed to serve as a counterbalance to Mazuz.
Indeed, they say, that is why Mazuz, who had been shocked by the lack of proper hierarchical relations between his predecessor, Elyakim Rubinstein, and then-state attorney Edna Arbel, chose Shendar in the first place.
Whether the criticism of Shendar and, indirectly, of Mazuz, is justified, is one story. The question of whether Mazuz will take the criticism into account is another.
Some observers say that Shendar's assistant, Shai Nitzan, is the front-runner to replace his boss. Nitzan is a brilliant courtroom lawyer, highly articulate, intelligent and sure of himself. He is also extremely loyal to the system he serves and ambitious to advance.
Until now, however, he has always been directly subordinate to more powerful officials in the Justice Ministry. Whether he is capable of making the big decisions independent of pressure from above has not been demonstrated, at least not in public.
Last week, at the Mazuz Committee's first meeting, the members decided to seek more candidates from outside the Civil Service. For those who believe that the state prosecution has serious problems, this is good news. Writers such as Haaretz legal commentator Ze'ev Segal believe that the next state attorney should come from outside the system.
Yuval Elbashan of the Hebrew University said recently that the state prosecution needed a "Gabi Ashkenazi" to shake it up, as Ashkenazi shook up the army after becoming chief of the General Staff in the wake of the Second Lebanon War.
Once again, the question will be whether the search committee and particularly its chairman, Mazuz, believe that such a shakeup is necessary and if so, whether an outsider is best suited to implement it.
The panel has promised to publish the names of all the candidates under consideration when the list is finalized. Then the betting on who will be next state attorney can begin in earnest.