The state submitted a request on Monday to postpone discussion of evidence in former prime minister Ehud Olmert's lawsuit by three months, following a leave of absence Deputy Jerusalem District Attorney Uri Korb requested in the wake of a scandal he caused during a college seminar he teaches.
Korb has been on Olmert's file since the beginning and his presence in court is instrumental in presenting the complainant's case. His leave of absence would significantly harm the complainant's case in court, Jerusalem District Attorney Eli Abarbanel said in a press statement.
The statement emphasized that the complainant would not have made the request unless the prosecution was certain that Korb's leave of absence may significantly harm her cause.
On Sunday, the Justice Ministry said Korb asked for a leave of absence in the wake of furor over insulting statements he allegedly made about the judiciary during a college seminar he taught.
The announcement followed a meeting between State Attorney Moshe Lador and Korb to clarify what the latter had actually said and what further measures should be taken.
Ministry spokesman Moshe Cohen declined to elaborate on the decision. In a prepared statement, Cohen said Korb had asked for a short leave and would do his best in the next few days to “rectify the harsh impression” that his statements had created. He also said Korb had claimed that these statements had been deliberately distorted and taken out of context.
During the lectures, Korb allegedly said most judges were “asses” and that often they did not understand what was going on in court or played computer games instead of listening to the proceedings.
According to Ynet, the disciplinary department of the Civil Service Commission will begin an examination of the affair on Monday. It could decide to place Korb before a disciplinary committee that, in turn, would be authorized to take any number of measures against him, including dismissal. Korb has worked for the state prosecution for the past 14 years.
Meanwhile, developments in the affair have been fast and furious since Yediot Aharonot first published quotes from Korb’s lectures in its Friday morning edition.
After the report was published, Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein ordered Lador to meet with Korb and clarify his statements. Weinstein warned that if Korb’s answers were unsatisfactory, he would “reach the necessary conclusions.”
It appears, however, that Lador decided to turn the matter over to the civil service commissioner and in the meantime, to order Korb to suspend himself for a few days. Prior to the meeting with Korb, Lador met with Justice Ministry director-general Guy Rotkopf, Civil Service Commissioner Shmuel Hollander and Assaf Rosenberg, who is in charge of discipline for the Civil Service Commission. The decision to order Korb to suspend himself was reportedly taken there.
Korb’s statements aroused furious reactions in the judiciary. Moshe Gal, head of the Courts Administration, wrote to attorney Dror Arad-Ayalon, head of the National Ethics Committee of the Israel Bar, calling on him to order an investigation of Korb’s comments and “to take disciplinary measures appropriate to the seriousness of the remarks he made. This affair causes injury to the next generation of lawyers and must be examined deeply.”
But at least 14 future lawyers, among the students whom he addressed in his controversial lectures, came to Korb’s defense.
In a letter to Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch, they wrote, “We want to stress our opinion and feelings that attorney Uri Korb very much respects the judicial system, and the state prosecution in particular. This respect was a common thread throughout the workshop. He gave a genuine feeling of a highly professional person who is devoted to his profession and to the system in which he has been active for many years.”
They added that “most of the students had not taken Korb’s words literally. It was understood that these statements were a style of speaking, and that even if they were somewhat caustic, it was clear to a reasonable listener that he did not mean what he said literally and that the words were spoken in a humorous vein.”
Korb also received support from his colleagues at the Jerusalem District Attorney’s Office, who asked Lador in a letter to act “in a business-like and balanced manner, free of extraneous influences.” They described Korb as “honest, a person of good values, dedicated and highly professional.”
Korb, for his part, sent an e-mail to all the prosecutors at the Justice Ministry apologizing for the statements he had made while also maintaining that the quotes that appeared in the media were distorted.
Aside from Korb’s personal fate, the key question in the affair is whether, and if so, how, it will affect the trial of former prime minister Ehud Olmert.
Korb is the primary prosecutor in the case. Although Lador conducted the examination of New York businessman Moshe Talansky in pre-trial hearings in 2008, Korb is the lead prosecutor and the one who is by far the one most familiar with the facts.
The Justice Ministry refused to say how long Korb’s vacation would last, but it seems safe to predict that he will not be ready to begin questioning witnesses when the principle part of Olmert’s trial – the questioning of witnesses – is finally due to get under way next Monday.
In fact, the Korb affair poses an enormous problem to the state
prosecution. If Korb is not punished for his statements, it will
constitute a severe blow to the status of the judiciary at a time when
judges, including the Supreme Court president, are being attacked
physically as well as verbally. But if he is punished and cannot
prosecute Olmert, the trial could be postponed for an unforeseeable
amount of time.
Perhaps this is one of the reasons why Lador and Rotkopf decided to
hand the matter over to Hollander. They might have found it hard to
decide what to do about Korb objectively, since they have such strong
reasons for finally getting down to the heart of Olmert’s trial. These
feeling are unlikely to be shared by the disciplinary department of the
Civil Service Commission.