Analyze This: A murder in contempt of court

Hacham's colleague wants to believe underworld wasn't involved.

Tel Aviv attorney Avi Amiram has known his colleague Yoram Hacham since the two served together in the IDF paratroopers. They both started out working in the same law office, and since then their professional paths have crossed frequently, sometimes in their representation of Israel's most notorious underworld figures. But Hacham's career, and life, came to a sudden and explosive finish Wednesday night, when a powerful bomb blasted apart his car as he was driving through the heart of Tel Aviv. A number of organized crime figures have met their end (or narrowly avoided it) in similar fashion in recent years. But this is the first time that any lawyer associated with the representation of such individuals has met such a fate. The crime has shocked local legal and law enforcement circles. The impact of the blast has the media talking about a new "line being crossed" in the increasingly violent and audacious behavior of Israeli criminal elements. Hacham's recent representation of reputed crime lord Assi Abutbul, and a contentious business and personal dispute with a wealthy Russian-Israeli client, are being cited as possible links to his murder - and another sign that this country is heading down the road to a Sicily-type infestation of crime and corruption. Objection, argues attorney Amiram. "I would be very surprised if it turns out that Yoram's murder had anything at all to do with his representation of these kind of clients - although it certainly helps sell newspapers to suggest this is the case." The image of the so-called "mob lawyer" who in some way crosses an ethical line by become too close either professionally or personally with his underworld customers, and thus puts himself at personal risk, is a familiar one in popular culture and occasionally pops up in real life too. "Yoram was the last person I can think [of] who would be involved in such a situation," asserts Amiram. "I can think of other lawyers who have crossed the line between personal and professional interest, but that wasn't like him at all. These types tend to be lawyers without much prior experience in criminal law, who might take such a case after working primarily in civil matters." Hacham, in contrast, had an extensive criminal law background, working with some of the alleged biggest - and baddest - names in the business. According to all reports, he also had neither qualms in representing them, nor, when necessary, speaking his mind to them. "In the army and in his work I never knew Yoram to show any fear at all," says Amiram. "And his clients wanted, and respected, that kind of independence of mind, which a lawyer needs to be effective. Less experienced lawyers might also sometimes promise unrealistic results that could leave clients disappointed when they don't come to pass, but he wouldn't have made such a mistake. And when there are disputes, these clients know the best way to get back at an attorney is through a suit [whereby] they could damage their reputations, and not a violent attack like this. "I would be very surprised if this turned out to be in any way directly connected to a lawyer-client relationship," Amiram repeats. "And if so, you have to remember that Yoram also worked on civil cases that had no relation to organized crime." Amiram cites the case of Adi Azar, the Tel Aviv district court judge gunned down in 2004. Despite extensive media speculation that the crime was linked to either his personal life, or retribution from someone he had ruled against in his court, it turned out his murder was part of a convoluted plot by a prisoner hoping to win leniency in a court case to which Azar had no real connection. Although obviously the police will first pursue a line of investigation that focuses on Hacham's client list, Amiram believes the solution will likely be found, if it is, in a direction that hasn't yet been publicized. As for media reports that Hacham felt his life might be in danger, Amiram reports: "I met with him a couple of weeks ago, and he expressed no such concerns or worries, nor did I see him taking any special precautions. However, he was the type of personality who kept things close to the chest - he certainly wasn't a shvitzer." One thing that does worry Amiram is the professionalism of the crime - for example, whoever blew up Hacham's car knew how to do it in a place and in such a way that no one else was injured. "Whoever did it had that expertise, or had the money, to pay for it being done that way." If it does turn out that one of Hacham's underworld clients had him eliminated, lawyers such as Amiram will have new reason to be concerned at the type of work they do. But perhaps even worse, if the truth behind Hacham's murder does not come out - as is the case with the still unsolved killing of attorney Anat Pliner - the rest of us will be left wondering just how bad Israel's organized crime problem has become, and which red line the underworld will cross next.