Israel names new Supreme Court judges

Mazuz, Baron to replace Grunis, Arbel on Supreme Court; Naor to be next chief judge.

Judges preside in court (Illustrative) (photo credit: ILLUSTRATIVE: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Judges preside in court (Illustrative)
Former attorney-general Menachem Mazuz and Tel Aviv District Court Judge Anat Baron have been appointed to join the Supreme Court by the Judges’ Nominations Committee on Sunday.
The two will replace Edna Arbel, who retired in late June, and Supreme Court President Asher Grunis, who will retire in January.
Supreme Court Deputy President Miriam Naor is set to replace Grunis in January 2015, and become the next and 11th Supreme Court president, while Justice Elyakim Rubinstein will move up to become her deputy.
Throughout recent weeks, Mazuz was mentioned as a clear favorite for one of the spots.
While the discussion regarding the second open spot seemed to focus on female candidates, there were also many male candidates on a list of 14 potentials, and down to the wire there was no clear favorite.
Mazuz was perceived as a strong candidate because he handled so many high profile corruption cases, among others, while attorney-general, including the cases of former prime minister Ehud Olmert, former president Moshe Katsav, former justice minister Haim Ramon, former finance minister Avraham Hirchson and former minister Shlomo Benizri.
However, he also had some detractors for closing a case against former prime minister Ariel Sharon, for initially favoring a plea bargain with Katsav, and there were also mixed views on how long it took him to handle the case of Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, though much of the delay in that case came from his successor Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein.
Baron served as a Tel Aviv District Court Judge for 12 years, had previous private sector experience in civil law and was believed to be favored by the Supreme Court justices on the committee.
Baron is only 60, so she will be able to serve 10 years, a consideration that may have pushed her ahead of some of her more senior colleagues who could only have served for a short period.
The nine-member selection committee included Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Grunis, Rubinstein, Justice Esther Hayut, opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Labor), MK Yitzhak Cohen (Shas), Communications Minister Gilad Erdan and Israel Bar Association representatives Rahel Ben-Ari and Khaled Zoabi.
Baron also is a close friend of Hayut, but Hayut disqualified herself of voting in favor of Baron – though some say the friendship still could have helped.
Other top contenders who were passed over included Jerusalem District Court judges Nava Ben-Or and David Cheshin, Tel Aviv District Court judges Dvora Berliner, Ruth Ronnen and George Karra, Haifa District Court Judge Yael Willner, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Prof. Barak Medina and Olmert’s lawyer, Eyal Rozovsky.
Vered Savid, the director- general of the Authority for the Advancement of the Status of Women in the Prime Minister’s Office, said she “praises the decision of the Judges’ Nominations Committee as it was clear for the first time that the committee absorbed” as one of its criteria for the decision a public-sector wide directive to equalize the representation of women.
Savid “expressed hope that this would be [a] first that shows that the trend of advancing women through the committee will continue with the purpose of reducing the existing gender gap in the Supreme Court.”
Baron’s appointment, replacing Arbel, means there will be four female judges in the court, alongside 11 male judges.
Savid added that she hoped the IDF will soon follow suit and appoint a woman as a new major-general to one of its top positions, such as running the IDF’s personnel, medical, or education departments, following the recent retirement of its only previous major-general, Orna Barbivai.
Although in past appointment cycles there were major political battles and interventions in the process, with the Knesset even changing a law so that right-wing parties could promote Grunis to head the court, this round there was much less public controversy.
Many said that Livni, unlike some of her predecessors, did not express an interest in shaking up the list of candidates in a way that contradicted the wishes of the committee’s Supreme Court justices.
Livni praised the candidates as “excellent judges” and “decent human beings” who would act as a “shield for democracy and the individual.”
Still, frequent Supreme Court critic and coalition chairman Yariv Levin (Likud) criticized the selection process, saying that “yet again Supreme Court justices were chosen in the shadows, in closed-off rooms with no transparency, without the general public knowing how or why” the appointees were chosen.
He said that he hoped future processes would have a more diverse range of candidates, with more from outside the judicial system and with more transparency to the process.