Judge: Police, prosecution guilty of negligence, not deliberate deceit, in Ramon wiretapping fiasco

Retired judge Shalom Brenner concluded on Sunday that neither the police nor the state prosecution had deliberately withheld from Vice Premier Haim Ramon the contents of wiretapped conversations of the woman who filed a sexual harassment complaint against him, but that they were guilty of "a great deal of negligence." Meanwhile, the state rejected three petitions protesting Ramon's appointment as a minister in Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's cabinet, declaring that the law was explicit about the conditions barring a candidate from becoming a minister, and that these criteria did not apply to Ramon. In his opinion, Brenner wrote that senior officials in the prosecution and police had met on July 21, 2006, and decided to wiretap the conversations of "H.," the woman who complained that Ramon had forcibly kissed her, because of suspicions that she had been coerced into complaining about him. At the last minute, the head of the investigating team, without the required authority, added another topic to the wiretapping request: to transcribe any conversation relevant to the allegation that he had perpetrated an indecent act. After just over 24 hours, the wiretap was lifted. However, during that time, 74 conversations were taped. Later on, the police failed to transfer the wiretapping material to the prosecutors together with the rest of the evidence they had gathered, and the prosecutors, who had known about the wiretapping, did not bother to ask for it. Consequently, the wiretapping material, which was part of the evidence the prosecution was obliged by law to hand over to the defense lawyers in preparation of their case, was not included. It was only by chance that the defense learned about the wiretapped conversations. When they did, Ramon's lawyers, Nevot Tel-Tzur and Dan Scheinemann, charged that the conversations the prosecution had failed to provide indicated that H. had indeed been coerced into complaining against Ramon. They said that had Ramon been aware of the material, he would not have voluntarily lifted his parliamentary immunity and the Knesset would not have voted to lift it. Brenner presented a detailed description of the entire procedure involving the wiretapped conversations. He found that although both the police and the prosecution had made serious mistakes, they had not done so deliberately. He did not recommend any measures against any of those involved. Tel-Tzur issued a statement after the Brenner report was published, saying that the fact that the retired judge had found serious negligence in the conduct of the police and prosecution raised "serious questions and astonishment at the strange series of coincidences that led to such negligence, which inflicted such serious damage to the rights of precisely this particular defendant." In its response to the petitions against Ramon, the state's representative, Dana Briskman, explained that the Basic Law: Government stated specifically that anyone who was convicted of a crime and sentenced to jail could not serve as a cabinet minister for seven years from the date of the verdict or the end of the jail sentence. The law added that if the chairman of the Central Election Committee determined that the crime for which the person was convicted did not involve moral turpitude, the above restriction did not apply. However, the chairman could only consider the matter if the court had not specifically ruled that the person's crime involved moral turpitude. Given that this was the normative situation, wrote Briskman, "there was no legal prohibition to nominate [Ramon]. The government decided to appoint Ramon to the cabinet when all the facts were before it. The Knesset approved the appointment when all the facts were before it. Beyond that, the matter is one for the public to debate; it is not a legal matter." Attorney Yossi Fuchs, who represents the Legal Forum for the Land of Israel and was one of the petitioners against Ramon's appointment, charged that in defending it, Mazuz had caved in once again to top-flight lawyers. "He caved in in the Katsav case and now, again, in the Ramon case," wrote Fuchs. "A person like Ramon, who was convicted of a sex crime, could not get a job as a cleaning man or security guard in any government office because of his criminal record, but in Mazuz's opinion, he is fit to serve as a minister and vice premier."