PM's PR people get first win at Supreme Court over police checking their phones
Ofer Golan and Yonatan Orich are accused of intimidating Sholomo Filber, a key state witness in the Case 4000 against Netanyahu.
By YONAH JEREMY BOB
Two senior public relations advisers to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu got a first win at the Supreme Court on Wednesday in a battle over whether the police can review their cellphones for evidence in a case against them. The pair have been charged with intimidating state witnesses in Case 4000 being brought against Netanyahu.Supreme Court Justice Yosef Elron has sent the case back to the Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court, stating that the police will need to bring additional factual findings if they want to access the phones of Ofer Golan and Yonatan Orich for evidence.The case could have significant electoral consequences as Netanyahu has made the police and the legal establishment's credibility a focus of his campaign. This case is part of a spin-off to Case 4000 against the prime minister.Further, if charges are not brought against the two advisors, it will be viewed by law enforcement as a blow to their efforts to protect Case 4000 state's witnesses from intimidation.On December 15, Elron heard a fiery legal debate over whether Golan and Orich orchestrated an intimidation campaign against Shlomo Filber, a key state’s witness in Case 4000 against Netanyahu.Representing Netanyahu and his advisers, Amit Hadad told Justice Elron that the police must not get away with having abused Netanyahu’s advisers’ rights.He said that the court should penalize the police for accessing four separate cellphones in the investigation over several days.Hadad said that since there is a clear pattern of the police ignoring procedure, and since the police had enough evidence to conclude their investigation, they should not be allowed to further search the cellphones.The state lawyer told Justice Elron that the cases would fall apart without a full search of the cellphones in question.Moreover, the state lawyer told the Supreme Court that the legal issues involved were complex and that even if the police conduct was not ideal, it was far from a serious violation.Elron has now ordered the lower court to decide whether the police's current application to review evidence in the two senior officials' cellphones was based on earlier police actions accessing those cellphones without a proper legal basis.He said that if the police's current application was based on the prior misconduct then their application would be denied, but that if the court found that they had an independent basis for searching the cellphones beyond their past misconduct, then the cellphone searching could go forward.Elron's ruling showed that he viewed the police's conduct as more problematic than the state had indicated.Previous rulings in the lower courts have criticized the police's conduct, with both the district and magistrate’s courts saying that the police had violated standard procedures by reviewing the cellphones without advising Netanyahu’s advisers that they had the right to refuse the police request. However, both lower courts went on to approve the police request to review the cellphones more fully due to the weight of the charges against Golan and Orich.Elron's ruling was the first sign of hope for the pair. The case has sparked a wider debate about police interrogation tactics. It has also spun out the ongoing war of words between Netanyahu and the legal establishment.Golan and Orich, Netanyahu's top public relations people, allegedly also sent staff members with a megaphone to drive past Filber's house broadcasting intimidating messages designed to get him to recant his accusations that Netanyahu perpetrated bribery in Case 4000, the Bezeq-Walla! Affair.