Texting judge in Case 4000 fights to keep her job

Netanyahu endorses parliamentary commission of inquiry.

Bezeq shareholder Shaul Elovich and Tel Aviv Court Judge Ronit Poznanski-Katz (photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/ISRAELI JUSTICE MINISTRY SPOKESPERSON'S OFFICE)
Bezeq shareholder Shaul Elovich and Tel Aviv Court Judge Ronit Poznanski-Katz
The judge running the Case 4000 pretrial hearings who was caught exchanging text messages with an Israel Securities Authority attorney intends to fight for her job – if the Representative for Judicial Complaints recommends her firing to Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked on Tuesday.
The results of the probe into the texting between Judge Ronit Poznanski-Katz and attorney Eran Shaham-Shavit will be announced publicly by Tuesday, said Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, who said the texting affair would cause “severe harm to the public’s faith in the judicial system.”
Poznanski-Katz was quoted as telling confidants that although she made a mistake, she did not break the law.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his cabinet ministers called for an independent investigation.
In a closed-door Likud-faction meeting on Monday, Environmental Protection Minister Ze’ev Elkin recommended to Netanyahu that he support establishing a parliamentary commission of inquiry made up of Knesset members. The prime minister told Elkin that he supported the idea.
Culture Minister Miri Regev went even further, calling for a criminal investigation and for keeping Poznanski-Katz and Shaham-Shavit behind bars with no access to their phones.
“We need a criminal probe to restore the public’s trust in the legal system,” Regev said. “The entire system is infected.”
Late Sunday night, Pozansky-Katz stepped down as the pretrial judge from what is called the Bezeq case after she was caught exchanging text messages with Shaham-Shavit about detention proceedings.
The latest twist in the investigation – for which two of Netanyahu’s aides have been in police custody for the past week – was followed by a Sunday night announcement from Shaked and Supreme Court President Esther Hayut saying that they would refer Pozansky-Katz for potential disciplinary action.
Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit also ordered late Sunday a disciplinary probe of Shaham-Shavit, who was suspended pending completion of the probe against him.
Normally, probes of this kind take longer, but due to the heavy public interest in the case, Shaked and Hayut worked to get a quicker decision. Shaked said that both the judge and the attorney had already been questioned.
Photographs of the texting between Pozansky-Katz and Shaham-Shavit appear to show them planning how many days of detention various suspects in Case 4000 would get.
Coordination – in which defense lawyers get to weigh in on arguments by the state outside of the public process – can be grounds for overturning an extended detention order.
However, in this case, Judge Ala Masrawa, who has replaced Pozansky-Katz in handling the case, found on Monday that the public interest of keeping the suspects in custody – to fully enable the police investigation into Case 4000 – trumped any harm to the suspects’ rights.
In any case, Pozansky-Katz’s actions as a pretrial judge would not have impacted any future trial since the trial judge is almost always different from the pretrial judge.
SHAKED ON MONDAY asked the media to wait for Mandelblit and the judicial complaints representative to reach decisions. “The State of Israel is a state of law, and we do not carry out beheadings in the village square,” she said, adding that, “we can already say that it seems that there are some lessons of system-wide flaws which we can learn from this incident.”
Furthermore, she said that she was ready to convene the state’s Judicial Panel to expel Pozansky-Katz if the findings against her were severe enough. She also emphasized both that courts must seriously weigh suspects’ rights at detention hearings and that Israel is not a corrupt country – as such a country would not have allowed the Channel 10 report, which broke the entire story, to air.
Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon called upon Shaked and Hayut to check whether similar incidents occurred in the past and to ensure they would not take place in the future.
“If the public loses its trust in the legal system, our courts and the rule of law will be rendered worthless,” Kahlon told his Kulanu faction. “This would be the worst possible damage that could be caused.”
But former justice minister Tzipi Livni (Zionist Union) warned that the Likud would use the text-messaging scandal “to destroy the legal system and whitewash corruption. We are on the way to truth becoming lies and lies becoming truth. A corrupt prime minister is saying that everyone is corrupt in order to give people the incorrect impression [that] everyone is like him.”
Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid told his faction that he thought the scandal was unacceptable, but that he did not believe it proved anything about the legal system in general.
“It is not time to throw away all the babies with the bath water,” Lapid said.
Late Monday night, Channel 10 reported that Pozansky-Katz and Shaham-Shavit had denied that their texting had undermined any legal rights, and said that most of their texts were merely to facilitate coordination.
Pozansky-Katz even complained that coordination was necessary due to a lack of staff to help keep up with her large case load.
The judge voluntarily stepped aside from the case late Sunday night, and the court spokesman’s office said that she would not conduct any further in-court hearings pending the completion of the disciplinary process. She noted that she was about to begin a sabbatical year.
The “Bezeq case” is an investigation into allegations that Netanyahu ordered his top aide, Shlomo Filber – whom he installed as director-general of the Communications Ministry – to make policy rulings in favor of the telecommunications giant. In exchange, the news site Walla! is alleged to have agreed to give positive news coverage of Netanyahu as dictated by his aide, Nir Hefetz, and possibly by his wife, Sara Netanyahu.
The go-between in the alleged exchange is Shaul Elovitch, who owns both Walla! and Bezeq.
It appears that the suspects being texted about, who were referred to mainly by first name, were Shaul Elovitch and his wife, Iris, along with various other Bezeq officials.