Bar Association publishes 1st survey on judges in 10 years

Court slams survey as unneeded, flawed; Conflict between top lawyer, Grunis breaks into open with chief justice getting low marks.

Israel Bar Association President Doron Barzilay at press conference unveiling results of 1st survey of judges in 10 years. (photo credit: YONAH JEREMY BOB)
Israel Bar Association President Doron Barzilay at press conference unveiling results of 1st survey of judges in 10 years.
(photo credit: YONAH JEREMY BOB)
The Israel Bar Association released the results of its first members’ evaluation of judges in a decade.
Hours before the survey was released on Monday, the Courts Administration released an unusually lengthy and angry condemnation of it as unneeded and flawed. It said there is already oversight of judges by the Ombudsman’s Office of the Israeli Judiciary as well as the State Comptroller.
Underlying the disagreement is a broader battle between outgoing Supreme Court President Asher D. Grunis and Bar Association president Doron Barzilay over the future of the association, which bodies of lawyers should run it, and its relations with the courts.
The bad blood between Grunis and Barzilay is said to run so deep that Barzilay has not been invited to speak along with other top legal officials at Grunis’s retirement ceremony this Thursday.
There are also reports that Grunis is involved in pushing for an alternative to Barzilay within the Bar Association.
Barzilay opened a Monday press conference unveiling the survey by saying that “lawyers are an important part of the legal system and my obligation is to act to improve the system.”
He added, “Judges must improve the image of the legal system and of the public’s faith in it to elevate the professionalism and quality” of the judges.
Barzilay rejected the court’s criticism of the survey, stating “transparency and criticism are central aspects of democracy, and we’re prohibited from leaving judges” free of criticism. He argued that both “internal and external criticism” are needed, rejecting the court’s claim that the government’s oversight is sufficient.
All of the speakers at the conference, which included the survey head and one of Barzilay’s deputies, noted that the ratings for most judges were very high, such that they were unclear why the courts had slammed the survey so hard.
The survey rated judges on a scale of one to five in two categories: style-related qualities such as the interpersonal qualities of the judge, and substantive qualities such as knowledge or objective qualities.
A total of 4,332 lawyers filled out the survey, representing around 20% of the litigators in the country. They completed 21,584 evaluations (each lawyer could evaluate up to 10 judges) and 677 judges were evaluated.
With 5 the highest score, 56-63% of individual judges received very high scores. Judges in the largest districts – Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Central (Lod), and Haifa – all received scores of between 3.5 and 4.
It is noteworthy that Grunis and incoming Supreme Court president Miriam Naor received lower scores of 2.97 and 3.06 respectively, the lowest scores of the Supreme Court justices.
The Courts Administration spokesman slammed the survey for not being coordinated with it and being purposely scheduled as the Bar Association moves toward elections this coming summer.
Further, the spokesman said that there is no reason for such a survey to be conducted only among lawyers, since all parties appearing in the courts could give their evaluations.
The statement further criticized the survey for discussing only 54% of judges and said the questions asked were poor and subjective.
Barzilay was asked about accusations that the survey was carried out with “political” intentions against Grunis and about the fact that “only a few dozen out of thousands” of lawyers in the survey actually evaluated Grunis.
The Bar Association head and the other speakers rejected the criticism, noting that they did not publish results for judges unless a minimum of 26 lawyers gave evaluations, to ensure the results were statistically significant.