Jerusalem city hall renews bid to oust respected city attorney

By ETGAR LEFKOVITS
March 20, 2006 13:17
3 minute read.

Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski's deputies and his predominantly haredi city council are pressing forward with their attempts to oust the respected city attorney following a series of disputes between the mayor and the city's top law enforcement official over controversial municipal moves. The renewed attempt by the mayor's associates to topple the city attorney, Yossi Havilio, which have been strongly condemned by outside bodies including The Movement for Quality Government in Israel and Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz, follows a series of legal losses that Lupolianski has suffered over the last year over decisions he made in defiance of the legal opinions issued by the city attorney. "We would like to end the term of attorney Havilio so that we may get good services from the city law office for the benefit of the city and the municipality," reads a letter Lupolianksi's associates penned to the mayor on the issue. The letter has been signed by all members of his United Torah Judaism Party, and nearly all the members of his coalition at the behest of Deputy Mayor Eli Simchayof, who is leading the campaign to depose the attorney, city officials said. Lupolianksi spokesman Gidi Schmerling said Sunday that the mayor would relate to his deputies' letter when it arrives in his office. The mayor's spokesman added that no special city council meeting on the issue had been scheduled as of yet. For months, Lupolianski's associates have been trying to attain the two-thirds city council majority needed to oust Havilio, and are currently just a couple of votes short of mustering the necessary majority. If Havilio's opponents manage to attain the vote in the near future, which is seen as increasingly likely, a special city council meeting will be called to oust him. The mayor added that no special city council meeting on the issue had been scheduled as of yet. However, even if they succeed in garnering the necessary votes, the attorney's dismissal would also require the approval of a ministerial committee, made up of representatives of the Interior Ministry and the attorney-general's office, who would need to determine - by a majority two-thirds vote - that the ouster was carried out for fair reasons. The renewed attempt to oust the city attorney follow a series of back to back legal losses that Lupolianski has suffered, after refusing to accept various legal opinions proffered by the city counsel, including one against illegal city funding for haredi private schools in the capital. The decision to press ahead with the attempts to oust Havilio, who was appointed by former Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert, was quickly condemned by Jerusalem opposition leader Nir Barkat, who has urged Mazuz to immediately intercede in the case. "The mayor's grave attempts to undermine the status of the city attorney are an apparent response to his unwillingness to bend the law, to cut corners or to issue legal opinions which will authorize the municipality's and the mayor's illegal activities," Barkat wrote in a letter to Mazuz last week, asking for his urgent intervention. The beleaguered Havilio has previously received the high-profile legal backing of Mazuz, who is the state's top law enforcement official. "From petitions that I have received from city councilors and from reverberations which have reached me from other channels, it appears that there are those in the Jerusalem Municipality... who are not comfortable with the city attorney carrying out his duties in a professional and independent manner," Mazuz wrote Lupolianski back in 2004. Havilio, who has voiced his determination to keep his job despite his frigid relations with the mayor, also has the support of The Movement for Quality Government in Israel which has previously deplored earlier such moves against him. "It appears that the apparent planned dismissal of the city attorney comes in the wake of his willingness to take an uncompromising stand in maintaining a worthy professional standard, and to stick to his obligation to ensure that the city will operate in a legal manner and according to proper administration," reads a letter the group sent the mayor on the issue last year.


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