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(photo credit: Channel 1)
Supreme Court Justice Edmond Levy raised his voice and banged on the table on Monday during an emotional hearing on the state's appeal of a lower court ruling not to convict a man who drove into a parking lot attendant in January 2006 because he could not pay his parking fee.
Levy said he could not understand how the lower court could have made such a decision. The Supreme Court decision on the appeal will be handed down soon.
Moshe Drori, the Jerusalem District Court judge who decided not to convict the driver, wrote in a 350-page ruling that he did so because the defendant, a haredi man, wanted to become a dayan (religious court judge).
Drori also wrote that as a result of being run over by the defendant, whose name has been banned from publication, the victim, Ethiopian immigrant Noga Zoraish, had become a full-fledged member of society, because she had been treated respectfully throughout the legal proceedings.
According to Channel 2, the Jerusalem District Court judge came under pressure from Chief Sephardi Rabbi Shlomo Amar and Interior Minister Eli Yishai (Shas), with the latter saying that a conviction would ruin the haredi student's rabbinic future.
The defendant's lawyer, Boaz Kenig, defended Drori's ruling in court on Monday by arguing that the incident was an exceptional and one-time error and that the driver had expressed genuine regret and apologized to the victim. He also brought other examples of cases in which defendants had not been convicted, even though they were guilty of the charges.
Levy was clearly upset by Kenig's line of argument. At one point he shouted at Kenig, "It is infuriating to listen to these arguments, but I must restrain myself. This is a very difficult case. I read [Drori's] ruling and reread it, and I could not understand how this man was not convicted. It is inconceivable."
At another point, he told Kenig sarcastically, "This is indeed an exceptional incident. I've never heard of one like it before in my life. A person wants to leave a parking lot, is told to pay and lifts the attendant up on his hood."
The state's representative, attorney Michael Karshen, said the court had erred by treating the case too lightly.
"A man wants to leave a parking lot. There's a barrier. The attendant is supposed to collect the fare. The man says he forgot his wallet. She tells him he can't leave. So he simply runs her over. This was a grave incident causing unjustified harm. It involved a criminal act of hitting a person and then running away."
"According to the description of the events, the defendant drove with the cashier clinging to the hood for 20 meters. She then fell off and bumped her head on the road, while he drove off," Karshen said.
He also informed the court that in the meantime, the defendant had been indicted for stealing from a supermarket.
He also argued that it was wrong to hide the incident from a Dayanim Election Committee which would have to decide if the defendant were worthy of becoming a Dayan. "Would the committee want to appoint such a person if they knew about his conduct in this case?" he asked.
Karshen added that the defendant had originally denied everything that had happened during his first police interrogation. Asked whether he had struck the woman, he replied, "Not that I know of."
Asked whether he had driven the car while the woman was standing in front of it, he replied, "What am I, a killer?"
However, the police had two videos of the incident which they then showed to him. Only then did he confess, but he still blamed the woman.
Meanwhile, a probation officer who had testified before the district court that the defendant appeared to have sufficiently come to understand his responsibility for his deed and had recommended not charging him, said that now, after the second indictment, she could not longer make such a recommendation.
Zoraish, who spoke to the court at the end of the hearing, broke into tears and said, "He asked forgiveness from me in court and I forgave him. His apology was not genuine. I was hurt. He hurt me. He threw me off the car. Today, I understand that I should not have forgiven him.
"This man has said very bad things about me. If he were to ask me again today for forgiveness, I would not do so."
The defendant, who had refused to speak to reporters before the hearing, gave in afterwards to the urgings of his lawyer and said, "I heard what she said today. But then [in the district court hearing - D.I.] she said she forgave me. Now she says she doesn't believe my apology was sincere. So I am trying now via the media to convince her that no one can know what is in my heart. The proof is that in the district court you did forgive me. I want to take advantage of his opportunity to say I sinned, I committed a crime. If you want, I will compensate you in any way possible."
Kenig blamed the media for the court's attitude towards his client.
"The justices' comments indicate a clear direction in their thinking. I can say that in my opinion, it has to do with the media coverage of this case. I must add that the justices did not have an answer to the court rulings that I presented them with involving situations [in which the defendants were not convicted even though they committed crimes] much graver than this one."
Outside the courtroom, Ethiopian-Israeli activists said that if Zoraish had not been Ethiopian and the defendant not haredi, the district court would have convicted him on the spot.