Judges' Selection C'tee fires Hila Cohen

Members agree unanimously in a precedent-setting decision.

Hila Cohen 298, 88 AJ (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Hila Cohen 298, 88 AJ
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Magistrate's Court Judge Hila Cohen on Thursday became the first judge in Israel's history to be fired, when the Judges' Selection Committee voted unanimously to dismiss her because she had falsified the minutes of court sessions and destroyed court documents. Cohen's newly hired lawyer, Avigdor Feldman, said he would petition the High Court of Justice against the decision on the grounds that in August, Cohen had been tried and punished by a judicial disciplinary court - which did not fire her - and therefore should not be punished again for the same deed. Thursday's meeting lasted five hours. Only seven of the nine committee members took part in it. One of the absent members, Justice Eliezer Rivlin, excused himself because he had been a member of the disciplinary committee that had originally heard the case and had voted against firing her. MK Shaul Yahalom (NRP) told reporters after the meeting, which was held at the Justice Ministry, that he was sorry Cohen had been fired, but that the members of the committee had felt public confidence and the judicial system were at stake in the matter. "This was certainly a difficult and not simple decision," added Health Minister Danny Naveh. "|But in the end, we were not able to allow her to continue serving as a judge in Israel." Cohen was appointed to Haifa Magistrate's Court in 2002 and served on the family court which is located at City Hall. City Hall employees, who were reportedly angry at her because she frequently missed or came late to work, photocopied documents and lodged complaints about her work. In one of the complaints, they charged that during two days in March 2003, Cohen had come so late to work that some of the cases that were scheduled for the day were cancelled, and the lawyers involved had submitted requests to the court to set new dates for their hearings. Cohen was accused of destroying these requests and falsifying the minutes of the days' sessions to make it sound as if the hearings had taken place. In August 2005, she was placed before a disciplinary court that included Deputy Supreme Court President Mishael Cheshin, Rivlin, and the president of the Jerusalem District Court, Moussia Arad. The committee agreed to reprimand Cohen and transfer her from Haifa to a court in the Northern District. However, Cheshin and Rivlin wrote that it had not been proven beyond reasonable doubt that Cohen had doctored the minutes to conceal the fact that she had come so late to court. Arad said Cohen should be fired. Neither Justice Minister Tzipi Livni nor Supreme Court President Aharon Barak were satisfied with the outcome of the disciplinary court decision. Barak told Cohen to resign and Livni warned the judge that if she did not, Livni would convene the Judges' Selection Committee in order to fire her. The committee held its first meeting on Cohen's future in October. At the end of the meeting, it appeared that the sides would reach a settlement which would preclude the need for a meeting. In the end, however, Cohen refused to accept the monetary settlement offered by the Courts Administration and decided to fight to the end against her dismissal.