Beinisch takes off her gloves in fight with Friedmann

Friedmann wants committee to bypass Supreme Court in appointment process. Ret. justice Cheshin urges him to resign over dispute.

dan meridor 224.88 (photo credit: Knesset Web site)
dan meridor 224.88
(photo credit: Knesset Web site)
For the first time since Daniel Friedmann was appointed justice minister and embarked on his campaign to reform the court system by weakening the Supreme Court, Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch on Wednesday lifted the veil of diplomacy that she has maintained and attacked him directly and bitterly. "I regret that regarding this important institution, which is one of the cornerstones of Israel's democratic system and is under constant threat from those seeking to weaken it, that instead of coping with its needs and problems, you advance dangerous plans for reasons that have nothing to do with the good of the court," Beinisch wrote. She was referring to a plan announced last week by Friedmann to change the system of appointing the presidents of all the courts, including the Supreme Court. If Friedmann's proposal is implemented, a search committee will recommend candidates for the posts. The panel would consist of a retired judge recommended by the justice minister, who will head the committee, and two judges appointed by the presidents of the district courts and the magistrate's courts, respectively. The only court that would not have the right to appoint a representative to the committee would be the Supreme Court. Friedmann announced his plan in public without first consulting Beinisch or the presidents of the lower courts. In an announcement to the press last Thursday, the justice minister said he had sent letters to all of the presidents asking for their opinion. In response, Beinisch wrote: "Your proposals are meant to substantially change the mechanism set down by law to elect the presidents, deputy presidents and the head of the Courts Administration. The legality of the proposed regulations is questionable since, on the face of it, they contradict the system of appointments according to law and violate the constitutional tradition according to which the judicial system has been operating for many years." "It is clear that these proposals are another link in the series of steps you have been taking that cause disagreements and arguments and are aimed at destroying the existing structure of the judicial system and the status of the office of president of the Supreme Court," she added. Beinisch wrote that Friedmann's justification for changing the system of appointing the presidents and deputy presidents was "astonishing." Friedmann had said he wanted to ensure the court presidents' independence. "Do you think that it is right that the presidents will be dependent on the minister only - in other words, the executive branch of government - so that the judicial system will not operate as an authority under the professional responsibility of the president of the Supreme Court? Is this what you call independent?" Beinisch wrote. Until now, lower-court presidents have been appointed by the justice minister with the consent of the president of the Supreme Court. Presidents of the Supreme Court were chosen by seniority whenever the incumbent presiding judge left office at the mandatory retirement age of 70. Recently, however, the Knesset passed a law initiated by Friedmann restricting the tenure of Supreme Court presidents to seven years. Friedmann's proposal would also change the way new Supreme Court presidents and lower-court presidents are selected. Beinisch said Friedmann was "seeking to challenge the principle anchored in the provisions of the Courts Law regarding the power of appointment that gives expression to the joint responsibility of the minister and the president of the Supreme Court. "According to your proposal, the president of the Supreme Court will have no status regarding the appointment of the presidents and deputy presidents. On the other hand, a retired judge appointed by the minister of justice, who is a political figure, will have that status." Beinisch added: "Your proposals show that you are not familiar with the judicial system and the responsibilities of the presidents and deputy presidents of the courts." She said she hoped Friedmann "has the strength to think things over and protect the judicial system rather than rush to damage the foundations that were laid at the beginning of statehood and nourished ever since to create a professional, autonomous and independent judicial system." Recently retired Supreme Court deputy president Mishael Cheshin supported Beinisch in an interview with Channel 2 on Wednesday night. "Friedmann is constantly trying to undermine the Supreme Court," he said. "It's no wonder Beinisch reacted the way she did. I would have done so earlier, and harsher." Cheshin added a personal message to Friedmann: "Go home, leave the system as it is and as it's been in the past - good, beautiful and quiet." Friedman said in response that Cheshin's comments did not actually address his justified proposal for appointing lower court presidents, a proposal designed to increase the independence of the judicial system. In his letter (to Beinisch), Friedmann said he never used the style Beinisch employed in her letter (to him), and never spoke in the way Cheshin had. Friedmann added that he had never called on Benisch to resign.