45 justified complaints found against judges in first half of 2008

Outgoing Judges' Ombudswoman Tova Strasberg-Cohen completed the examination of the 543 complaints against judges in the court system in the first half of 2008 and found 45 of them to be justified. The report, published on Monday, is the last for Strasberg-Cohen, the first person to hold the position since it was established on October 1, 2003. She will be replaced on October 1, 2008 by retired Supreme Court Justice and retired State Comptroller Eliezer Goldberg. In a press conference to mark the publication of the semi-annual report, Strasberg-Cohen said she regretted that she had been unable to solve the problem of the backlog in cases that had piled up throughout the court system over the years. In a separate report released Monday, Moshe Gal, Director-General of the Courts Administration, reported that the total number of files in the stockpile of the judicial system had dropped by 3.3 percent compared to the same time last year, or 5% compared with the end of 2007. A large part of that, however, had to do with a change in the Bailiff's Law, whereby creditors may now apply directly to the Bailiff's Office without first complaining to the courts on lawsuits of up to NIS 50,000 if they are backed by a contract or explicit promise on the part of the debtor to pay the money. According to Strasberg-Cohen, the Ombudswoman's office had received a total of 546 complaints. It completed the investigation of 543 complaints, which also included some from 2007 or earlier. Of the 543, 186 were rejected out of hand because they were not aimed at the judges or because they were petty or pointless. Of the 357 that were investigated, 45 were found to be justified. The rest were either halted in mid-investigation or rejected. The largest number of complaints were directed at the magistrate's court. Almost one-third of all the complaints that were found to be justified focused on it. Other courts with relatively high figures included the family courts (9), the rabbinical courts (6) and the district courts (6). One of the examples of a justified complaint involved the conduct of a judge in small claims court. When a plaintiff decided to represent herself in court, the judge asked her, "With 50,000 lawyers in Israel, you decided to represent yourself? Are you aware of the consequences? Do you also fix the plumbing and flooring at home by yourself?" When the woman said she was seeking justice, the judge replied, "Justice and oil are the same. It's rare to find either." When her husband tried to speak, the judge told him, "Just as you don't open your mouth at home, you will not speak here, either." In his defense, the judge said he was worried about the plaintiff and had made his comments about her failure to hire a lawyer out of concern for her. He said he had made the remark about oil and justice humorously. He also said the woman was "stubborn, humorless and unwilling to understand what the court told her." The Ombudswoman ruled that the judge had spoken "cynically, arrogantly, injuriously and insultingly, and had displayed impatience and used images which he thought were funny but were not necessarily perceived that way."