Sheetrit appointed interim justice minister, Ramon indicted

Sheetrit to serve during Ramon probe, wants to help "preserve stability."

meir sheetrit 88 298 (photo credit: Courtesy Photo)
meir sheetrit 88 298
(photo credit: Courtesy Photo)
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert appointed Construction and Housing Minister Meir Sheetrit as interim justice minister on Wednesday morning. Sheetrit will replace Haim Ramon for three months while Ramon fights charges of sexual harassment. Olmert has said he hopes Ramon would be exonerated by then. Sheetrit said he accepted the role to help preserve stability in the country. "I place great importance on helping the prime minister preserve governmental stability - especially during these times - and therefore I was recruited to help where I was needed," he said. Olmert also said he appointed Sheetrit, because he has served as justice minister in the past and was successful in the position. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, also a former justice minister, was also considered for the position. The appointment of Sheetrit, however, allowed Olmert to neutralize a political opponent. Sheetrit announced in June that he intended to run against Olmert for the leadership of Kadima. Also Wednesday, the prosecution filed an indictment against Ramon in Tel Aviv District Court, charging him with committing an indecent act against a person without her consent. Sheetrit wished Ramon luck and said he hoped the former minister succeeded in proving his innocence in court. Sheetrit said he felt as if he had just left the Justice Ministry yesterday. He served as minister during the first Sharon government between 2001 and 2003. At the time, he had wanted to be appointed minister of Finance or Education and was originally disappointed by the posting. However, as time went on, he came to like the job and was disappointed in 2003, when the position was given to Shinui leader Yosef Lapid in the second Sharon government. During his two years in the ministry, Sheetrit carried out a number of reforms. The first had to do with the problem of unpaid parking tickets which had ballooned into huge fines. Under the circumstances, many drivers refused or were unable to pay, their licenses elapsed and they continued driving without them. Sheetrit reduced the fines and set a deadline for drivers to pay up. As a result, the government received revenues, drivers no longer owed money and many of them were able to retrieve their licenses. Sheetrit also passed a law reducing the interest that banks could charge mortgage holders who had defaulted on their monthly payments. Sheetrit's personal reforms as minister were "populist" in the sense that they were meant to solve problems that directly affected the public at large. Ramon, on the other hand, focused on systemic changes. During his four months in office, he sought to streamline the legal system and to initiate reforms in the political system. For example, he initiated or sped up approval of legislation making primaries mandatory for all large political parties. Another piece of legislation that drew criticism in many quarters was meant to ease the threshold for prosecuting acts of alleged incitement. Another initiative he championed was an amendment to the Penal Code establishing standard sentences which judges would be obliged to hand down unless they could explain why in a specific case they decided to stray from the standard. Another plan that angered many officials in the ministry was aimed at privatizing the prosecution of lesser civil cases. It is possible that Sheetrit was referring to the tensions created over the privatization plan when he said on Wednesday that he would bring "calm" to the ministry. Sheetrit himself did not elaborate. Sheetrit's most important task in the immediate future will be the appointment of new Supreme Court justices to fill the five empty seats (including that of retiring Supreme Court President Aharon Barak). His first job on this matter will be to preside over the Judges' Selection Committee meeting scheduled for September 7 to appoint Justice Dorit Beinisch to replace Barak. In his first stint as Justice minister, Sheetrit took an active role in choosing the candidates that filled the two vacant posts at the time. As quid-pro-quo for Barak's desire to appoint the secular Justice Ayala Procaccia, Sheetrit insisted on the appointment of the Sephardic and religious Justice Edmond Levy.