One out of every five complaints lodged against a judge last year turned out to be justified, the Judges' Ombudswoman, retired Supreme Court Justice Tova Strasberg-Cohen, announced in her second annual report released Tuesday. According to the report, 1,114 complaints were filed in 2005, including 222 which were found justified. The figures marked a five percent increase in the proportion of justified complaints compared to the previous year, she said.
There were marked increases in the share of justified complaints chalked up by the rabbinical and the family courts. In 2005, almost half the complaints lodged in the rabbinical courts - 60 out of 137 - were found to be justified. Overall, justified complaints against the rabbinical courts accounted for 27 percent of the total number, an increase of 12 percent compared with its share last year.
As for the family courts, 39 out of a total of 143 complaints - that is, 28 percent - were found to be justified, accounting for 18 percent of all the justified complaints. This was four percent higher than its share last year.
The share of the magistrate's courts in the number of justified complaints dropped this year to 30 percent, compared with 45 percent last year.
Strasberg-Cohen divided the complaints into four categories. Forty-nine percent of the justified complaints concerned drawn-out judicial proceedings or long waits between the end of the proceedings and the verdict. Thirty-five percent had to do with the conduct of the judges. Twelve percent involved injuries to the principle of natural justice and four percent had to do with the general handling of trials.
Altogether, justified complaints were lodged against 109 judges (18 percent of the total number.)
Strasberg-Cohen said the Courts Administration applied different sanctions to these judges in accordance with the specific circumstances of the case. The array of sanctions include a comment in the judge's personal file or in the Courts Administration, follow-up to see that the fault uncovered in the complaint was rectified, personal talks with the judge and the president of the judge's court in order to discuss the fault and how to correct it, a recommendation to reprimand the judge, a recommendation to put the judge before a disciplinary court, or a recommendation to transfer him from one court to another.
This year, the Ombudswoman did not recommend relieving any judge of his duties.
In one case, she recommended transferring a judge to another court. In two cases, both involving dayanim [rabbinical court judges,] she recommended placing them before a disciplinary court.
According to the report, Strasberg-Cohen took measures beyond the specific findings yielded by the complaints in order to deal with some of the judicial system's chronic problems. For example, if a complaint was lodged against a judge for being slow, the Ombudswoman examined other cases that he was handling where no complaint had been filed. She wrote that whenever she received a justified complaint about a protracted judicial decision, she would discuss the matter with the judge, who usually handed down his decision soon after.
In cases where she discovered several protracted decisions in a judges' caseload, she would instruct him to finish the cases as quickly as possible, and he did so. In a few cases, she summoned the judges to her office to explain why they were late. The judges were told to prepare a timetable for finishing the cases and the Ombudswoman said she was monitoring the situation to see that they were on schedule.
Regarding the rabbinical courts, more than half the justified complaints had to do with the fact that the dayan did not live in the same city as his court was located. Five dayanim were found to frequently come late, leave early or be absent. Some of the dayanim had other jobs, including those who had not received permission from the Rabbinical Courts Administration.