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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
In a bizarre lineup, the High Court of Justice on Monday heard arguments over whether the state can be compelled to agree to a plea bargain with Shula Zaken to get her to testify against former prime minister Ehud Olmert in the Holyland trial – with Olmert and the state standing on the same side for one day.
Zaken, Olmert’s former bureau chief, only recently made an eleventh hour push to turn state’s witness against him.
But the state ultimately said that it was too late in the case, that her new testimony had too many inconsistencies and that she had failed to present evidence to verify parts of her story that contradicted her earlier testimony.
Olmert’s legal team has blasted Zaken as manufacturing lies about Olmert to save her own skin and out of vengeance and anger at Olmert after his lawyer Roi Blechner attacked her on television.
The Holyland trial involves 16 prominent defendants, including Olmert and Zaken, accused of smoothing over legal and zoning obstacles to construction in exchange for millions of shekels in bribes.
Responding to the state’s refusal to cut a deal and with Zaken’s public support, the Movement for the Quality of Government in Israel filed the petition to compel the state to change its stance.
At the outset, Justice Isaac Amit, one of three more junior justices on the panel, noted that there were no legal precedents for compelling the state to cut such a deal.
The NGO responded that because Olmert was a past prime minister and potential future one, the case was so important to the public interest that her new testimony needed to be heard in court and by the public.
It added that it has often pressed the court in ordering new precedents when the issue was important enough to the country.
The state doubled down on the court’s statement that there was no precedent for courts invading its professional judgment on when to agree or not agree to plea bargains.
It said that there were “new developments” that supported its decision not to cut a deal with Zaken and asked that the court allow it to present the developments in a closed-door hearing without the other parties present.
The other parties protested and ultimately there was no closeddoor hearing, but the state did present the court a document with the new information, with the document not being shown to the other parties.
Keeping the document under a court gag order was highly unusual for any proceeding not dealing with national security.