Olmert in court on day of sentencing, May 13.
(photo credit: YOTAM RONEN)
There are two seemingly contradictory principles that explain most of why former prime minister Ehud Olmert got such a harsh sentence of six years in prison.
Part of the context of why many are calling the sentence harsh is that some other top politicians, like Shas party leader Arye Deri and former minister Shlomo Benizri, received around half the prison time on bribery convictions.
One principle was that Judge David Rozen never viewed Olmert as deserving different treatment for having served the state as prime minister.
He always referred to Olmert merely as “Defendant No. 8.”
On one hand, such treatment is typical jargon for courts when dealing with multiple defendants in the same case.
On the other hand, with Rozen it was clearly intended.
Unlike most judges, who would announce their decision on a prominent defendant first, Rozen made Olmert and the media wait through several less prominent defendants before he arrived at the “main event” of his decision.
Rozen related to Olmert and his lawyers throughout the case as just another defendant, not as his former ruler.
So in part the sentence was harsh because Olmert got no positive special treatment for his contributions as a prime minister.
But adding insult to injury, Rozen gave Olmert special negative treatment, saying that the betrayal of the public is greatest with the “minister of ministers.”
In other words, Rozen gave Olmert a harsher sentence than some lower-down public servants, and certainly less than those who gave him the bribes (though treating bribe-takers more harshly is a standard and recognized legal principle).
While Olmert is unlikely to get his conviction reversed, he may very well get his sentence reduced on various grounds – one of which could be that these seemingly contradictory principles may be perceived as unfair.
Incidentally, fairness does not arise much in deciding to convict/acquit, but it absolutely does in sentencing.
Also, while citing all of Olmert’s contributions to the state, Rozen appeared to ignore them in the final analysis.
If the judge was going to treat Olmert as “minister of ministers” to send across a message, the Supreme Court may think Olmert should have gotten a reduction in the sentence for his contributions – not merely nice words before bringing down the guillotine.
Finally, Rozen, like the prosecution, appeared to want to create a deterrent “echo” against future public corruption with this decision, giving some maximum sentences and using controversially harsh words such as “traitor” to describe the defendants.
Numerous defense lawyers had attacked this deterrence idea and said that sentences are supposed to do justice, not just deter.
If the Supreme Court agrees, that could reduce Olmert’s sentence.
But in the meantime, Defendant No. 8, minister of ministers, is looking at a long jail sentence.