Half of complaints against judges protest long trials - ombudswoman

Almost 50 percent of the complaints against judges found to be justified in 2007 involved judicial proceedings that took too long or took an inordinate length of time between the last hearing and the ruling, retired Supreme Court justice Tova Strasberg-Cohen, the judges' ombudswoman, said Monday. However, the number of complaints found to be justified dropped from 198 in 2006 to 115 in 2007, even though the number of complaints filed remained roughly the same. It was the second year in a row that the number of justified complaints fell. "The drop is not coincidental," Strasberg-Cohen told reporters after releasing the Ombudswoman's Report for 2007. "The judges have internalized the fact that there is an ombudsman, after 55 years in which there was no supervision of their work and they were not used to being asked for explanations regarding complaints about delays or other matters." The ombudswoman added that 15% of the justified complaints had to do with inappropriate conduct on the part of judges in the courtroom, including applying undue pressure on litigants to reach compromise settlements. Another 15% had to do with injury to the principle of natural justice (such as discriminatory treatment), conflict of interest on the part of the judge or violation of the right of a litigant to the heard. Seventeen percent of the justified complaints had to do with mistakes in the administration of the proceedings or in keeping the minutes of the hearings. Forty-six percent involved the magistrate's courts, 21 percent the district courts, and 11 percent the rabbinical courts. Regarding justified complaints regarding the conduct of judges in the courtroom, Strasberg-Cohen said that a major part of the problem had to do with the heavy caseload of the judges. "When a judge comes into his courtroom in the morning and sees the number of cases he must deal with during the day, his mood is affected and he can become impatient," she said. "He also knows he must finish hearing all the cases that day, because he will face the same number the following day." She added that the rude and disrespectful conduct of some lawyers and litigants caused some judges to lose their temper. Reporters asked Strasberg-Cohen whether the fact that three judges had been found guilty of or were suspected of inappropriate or illegal behavior in the last few years indicated that the current system of appointing judges was no longer able to filter out unsuitable choices. She referred to the Zamir Committee that investigated the system of appointing judges and issued its report in 2001. "They found no cause to recommend any changes or additions to the system," she said. "If we see that there are problems with the new generation of judges, we could reconsider the matter."