The verdict given by the Nazareth District Court for Roman Zadorov’s retrial not only determined his innocence in the murder of Katzrin schoolgirl Tair Rada, but according to proponents of judicial reform, it showed that the Israeli legal system is guilty of gross injustice, and faith in legal officials is misplaced.
Zadorov was arrested in 2006 and sentenced to life in prison in 2010. It took almost 16 years to prove his innocence, despite persistent doubts about his guilt, problems with the evidence and accusations of misconduct by the Israel Police and the State Attorney’s Office.
The overturning of Zadorov’s conviction was not just a simple mistake or a challenge to make the right argument, but rather, according to Zadorov, it is symptomatic of a flawed system.
“People know that no one has certainty that it won’t happen to them either,” he told Ynet on Thursday. “Therefore, people want justice before there’s another like me, another Roman Zadorov. It’s preferable that [an oversight] body will be established that [oversees] the police and the state attorney.”
The criticism of police and prosecution comes at a time when the entire legal system has been challenged by the judicial reform plan first proposed by Justice Minister Yariv Levin and Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee chairman Simcha Rothman.
“The link between Zadorov’s trial and the fixing of the legal system is strong,” Rothman said. “The Zadorov affair exposes the status of the position of government legal counsel to daylight.”
Rothman alleges corruption in the trial
Former state attorney Shai Nitzan and the Attorney-General’s Office had demanded that the Health Ministry prevent forensic expert Dr. Maya Forman-Resnick from rising to a post as director of forensic pathology at the Institute of Forensic Medicine over her testimony in favor of Zadorov at his trial, he said.
Forman-Resnick had said cuts on Rada’s body were made by a serrated knife, rather than a straight-edged knife like the prosecutor said. Forman-Resnick would later win compensation and the right to assume the position in a 2015 trial.
“Their ability to take revenge on the doctor, whose only sin was that she did not agree with their theory in the Zadorov trial, should have received treatment in the part of the reform concerning the status of the advice of the attorney-general,” Rothman said.
Reformists have been highly critical of government legal advisers, the Attorney-General’s Office and its subservient State Attorney’s Office.
According to Levin, the government legal advisers’ opinions should not be legally binding. The anti-reformist argument against this has contended that the advisers are merely interpreters of the law.
Nevertheless, the pursuit of personal vendettas and interests lends credence to the reformist narrative that the advisers are anything but objective arbiters. The reformist argument for allowing outside representation besides a government attorney for officials is strengthened by the same issue, as an official may have legitimate concerns about a government attorney’s animus against them.
Forman-Resnick had also accused Nitzan of falsifying forensic reports to achieve murder convictions. Nitzan was also accused by Justice Ministry oversight czar Hila Gersetel of cherry-picking from expert reports that helped the prosecution’s case against Zadorov, while suppressing those that undermined it.
Rothman also said Gersetel had said that Institute of Forensic Medicine head Dr. Chen Kugel had been told by people within the legal system to change his testimony.
The “thuggish conduct” of Nitzan “proves why the rules must be changed,” in particular, regarding the connection between the State Attorney’s Office and the attorney-general, Rothman said.
Reformists have argued for the division of the Attorney-General’s Office into two roles, a state prosecutor-general and a chief legal adviser. Currently, the state attorney is subservient to the attorney-general, who has power over law enforcement and is the chief legal adviser for the executive branch.
Critics have expressed concerns that too many responsibilities for the state attorney, a lack of proper oversight and state prosecutors and government advisers working together can lead to a conflict of interest. The government action taken against an expert witness over their testimony also supports this fear.
Likud MK Tally Gotliv also attacked the courts for their previous verdicts. Zadorov had gone through multiple appeals and retrials in the lower and higher courts.
“In Israel, there are innocent people in prison,” she wrote on Twitter. “It is enough [under the current system] to base indictments on the confession of suspects; it is too easy and very dangerous.”
One of the arguments against altering the Judicial Selection Committee to include more elected representatives and to remove members of the Bar Association as reformists wish is that they will be able to keep the appointed judges professional. Problems in their verdicts could be argued to challenge this defense.
What’s more, the allegations of state attorneys working to push evidence to show what they wish jives with the reformist narrative of a club of self-interested judicial and legal professionals pursuing their own interests on the Judicial Selection Committee
Yesh Atid MK Ron Katz challenged the reformist use of the Zadorov case as proof of a need for reform by asking why none of the changes “concern the criminal procedure, the rights of the accused, the time of the process, the investigation methods, something that might really help someone?”
Yisrael Beytenu MK Yulia Malinovsky said Levin and other Likud MKs had voted against a Knesset inquiry into the conduct of law-enforcement agencies.
While these are valid challenges, those on the fence about the reform will still see the results of injustice to one man. Those prosecuting the legal system will see the Zadorov case as damning evidence that reform is needed.