The enduring mystery of the Talansky-Olmert appeal

The appeal is so old, it seems as if it has mysteriously disappeared.

Talansky pouting 311 (photo credit: Israel Jerozolimski)
Talansky pouting 311
(photo credit: Israel Jerozolimski)
What happened to the state’s appeal of former prime minister Ehud Olmert’s July 2012 acquittals in the Jerusalem corruption trial? The appeal is so old, it seems as if it has mysteriously disappeared.
And now that Olmert has been convicted of bribery and sentenced to six years in prison in the Holyland trial, his earlier victories and the state’s appeal could almost be forgotten.
As of October 2012, the state had already appealed Olmert’s acquittals in the Talansky and Rishon Tours Affairs, and as of July 2013, even oral arguments were concluded.
In other words, despite the public importance of the case, there was a bizarre eight-month delay from the filing of the appeal to oral argument, outdone only by the already almost 12-month delay in rendering a decision following oral argument.
While the Rishon Tours Affair is still on appeal and in play, the state’s main focus was the Talansky Affair in Monday’s hearing on a motion to reopen that aspect of the trial.
The purpose of the state’s motion is to send the Talansky case back to the lower court and introduce new cassette tape evidence from Olmert’s former top aide Shula Zaken, now turned state’s witness. Only after that verdict would the Supreme Court render a decision on the appeal of both the Rishon Tours and the Talansky case.
The main accusation in the Talansky Affair was that Olmert had received hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash in envelopes from New York businessman Moshe Talansky and had hidden the funds (illegally failing to report them) in a secret safe maintained by his confidante Uri Messer.
In his testimony to the lower court, Olmert said, among other things, that he’d thought the Talansky funds were being kept in a bank account.
In an incredible moment of candor, Justice Yoram Danziger essentially told those present on Monday that the motion to reopen the Talansky Affair had caught the court at a moment when the five justices, including Supreme Court President Asher Grunis, were divided on whether to reverse Olmert’s acquittals.
So the first reason for the unusual delay is clear: The Supreme Court would rather not rule in a divided fashion on such a momentous decision and was trying to negotiate behind the scenes to achieve a more united front.
There is a probable corollary to this deadlock: It is likely further proof that Grunis has somewhat lost control of “his” court.
Traditionally presidents of the Supreme Court rule in the majority, even if that means amending their opinions from time to time, so that they maintain the initiative and the ability to determine outcomes in more deadlocked situations.
Some commentators noted that following a series of decisions last year on whether to fire various indicted mayors and on the state’s migrant policy, Grunis lost control of the court and was left glaringly in the minority.
In summer of last year, Grunis may have angered the other justices, who were seemingly ready to fire then-Ramat Gan mayor Zvi Bar when Bar was under indictment for corruption.
Instead, Grunis forged a compromise in which Bar would escape the shame of being fired by pledging not to run for reelection, and in exchange the court would not issue a precedent-setting ruling of forcing mayors who were under indictment for corruption to step down.
However, Grunis did not convince Upper Nazareth Mayor Shimon Gafsou and Ramat Hasharon Mayor Yitzhak Rochberger, also under indictment for corruption, to skip reelection, and a thunderous 6:1 High Court decision – Grunis in the minority – fired both mayors and set the new precedent that Grunis had sought to avoid.
More subtly, Grunis was on the outside of the High Court’s 9:0 September decision striking down the state’s migrant policy.
How was he in the minority on a unanimous decision? While Grunis voted to strike down the policy, he wrote a separate opinion in which he struck it down on far narrower grounds, suggesting that were the state to modify its policy – rather than give it the complete overhaul that the other justices seemed to want – he would likely support it.
Even if Grunis controls the reins in some cases, the point is that he does not have a strong enough hand to break deadlocks in high-profile cases like Olmert’s.
The last piece is likely that Grunis would be happier if he could avoid deciding Olmert’s fate.
Grunis has gone out of his way to avoid historic decisions, preferring that disputes resolve themselves or that time make deciding obsolete.
He retires in January 2015.
Want to bet that the High Court, including Grunis, will decide to reopen the Talansky Affair, delaying any Supreme Court decision until long after January 2015?