Criminal lawyers worry over possible crossing of red lines in Hacham murder

Top Israeli criminal lawyers told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday that the Mafia-style murder of attorney Yoram Hacham was unprecedented and may not have been related to his work, but expressed concern that it could set an example that could threaten their lives in the future. Jerusalem attorney Ya'ir Golan said it is too early to understand the implications of Hacham's assassination for criminal lawyers in general because the motive for the killing was still unknown. "It depends on whether he was killed in connection with his work or whether it had to do with romantic relations or money," said Golan. "If it had to do with the former, then clearly a red line has been crossed." Golan and Tel Aviv attorney Avigdor Feldman recalled that criminal lawyers have been attacked in the past. One, Avi Oren, was even killed. "But most of the incidents were spontaneous and usually stemmed from disappointment or frustration on the part of the client, disagreement over fees or even a psychotic personality." Golan continued. "Hacham's murder was something else altogether. It was a well planned criminal operation. A murder committed in such a sophisticated manner using an explosive device in a professional way is cause for concern." Golan said he had never turned a client down solely because he thought he was dangerous, "but it is sometimes a consideration in deciding whether or not to take the case on. I will take into account whether a potential client is mentally unstable, very dangerous or has a history of violence. But that is not the determining factor." Feldman agreed with Golan that it was hard to assess the implications of Hacham's assassination for criminal lawyers in general without knowing the motives behind it. Nevertheless, he said that "all the codes of behavior have been shattered. If people start turning lawyers into targets, the lawyers will not be able to defend themselves. I can't come to a client with bodyguards or turn to the police for help. "Until now, it was tacitly presumed that lawyers operated in the no-man's land between crime and law enforcement. If we tip over to one side or the other, it will be very dangerous." Feldman added that even if Hacham's murder was not motivated by his work relations with a client, it could encourage that kind of conduct among dissatisfied clients in the future. "There is such an atmosphere today coming from all directions," he said. "Lawyers are losing their immunity. Judges contribute to it sometimes when they make insulting comments to lawyers. The police sometimes contribute to it when they treat lawyers like criminals. And lawyers themselves contribute to it. We can't deny that. There has been a drastic drop in the professional level." Feldman said he has never turned down a client because he thought he might be dangerous, "but I sometimes regretted it afterwards." Attorney Yoram Sheftel said he had no doubt Hacham's murder did not reflect in any way on the work of criminal lawyers. "This case has no implications for any criminal lawyer because I am under the clear impression that there was no connection between Hacham's murder and his work. This case involves personal matters which have absolutely nothing to do with the work of a criminal lawyer." Nevertheless, Sheftel conceded that given the publicity the murder has received, it could give criminals ideas they may not have entertained until now. "The media has understandably given a great deal of attention to this case," he said. "That could lead others to mimic what they are seeing and this could increase the instances of serious violence, including murder, against criminal lawyers." During his career, Sheftel has twice been attacked for his representation of clients. In both cases, however, it was not his client who attacked him but someone linked to the other side. He added that he has never turned down a case out of fear that the client might attack him.