Is all fair in defending one's client, short of breaking the law?
Former president Moshe Katsav's lawyers are playing with fire in using any possible stratagem and loophole in the law to prevent the trial of their client from commencing.
Attorneys Zion Amir, Avigdor Feldman and Avraham Lavie say that all they are doing is giving their client the best possible defense. But this defense has included not only reneging on a plea bargain with the state many months after it was signed; it has also meant asking for one postponement of the trial opening after another; last-minute refusals to obey court rulings that place the court in a helpless situation by creating facts on the ground; and arguing and even insulting the court (though the lawyers claim the court insulted them.)
As long as it is legal, any tactic will do, all in the name of "providing a worthy and appropriate defense to the accused," as Amir, Feldman and Lavie told Tel Aviv District Court Judges George Karra, Miriam Sokolov and Judith Shevah, in their request to be discharged from representing Katsav.
What the lawyers are forgetting is that they are also officers of the court and it is their duty not only to give their client the best possible protection, but to help the court in the pursuit of justice.
This they have failed to do; in fact, these days they seem to be fighting the court more than the prosecution.
Some of their behavior borders on the contemptuous. On May 14, the court gave Katsav's lawyers 30 days to draft a response to the indictment. That should have been enough time, considering that in court, Amir already told the judges that his client would plead not guilty.
When the day came, however, instead of filing the response, the lawyers asked for a two-week extension, leaving the court without the option of demanding the response the day that it was supposed to be handed in. This tactic is the well-known one of "creating facts on the ground."
They did the same thing again this week, once again in the unassailable, if not holy, name of providing their client with the best possible defense.
Their insistence on being discharged from the case because of the court decision to hold the trial four days a week is another case in point. Last week, during an appearance before the Knesset Law Committee, Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman blasted lawyers for objecting to trials being held day after day. If it hampers their ability to take on other clients, let them not take on so many, he added.
Everyone agrees that the judicial process is slow and ponderous. But, as Neeman pointed out, it is not only the courts, the prosecution and the police that are responsible. Lawyers are also to blame for precisely the kinds of procrastination and stalling techniques that Katsav's lawyers are guilty of in this case, which is of paramount public importance.
They are not only deliberately delaying this trial, but also cheapening the public's respect for the courts and therefore causing harm to the rule of law.