Court refuses to grant Lador immunity in Olmert libel suit

Judge Riva Niv slams state prosecutor for "undermining public confidence in law enforcement" in 'Haaretz' interview.

Former prime minister Ehud Olmert 311 R (photo credit: Reuters)
Former prime minister Ehud Olmert 311 R
(photo credit: Reuters)
The Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court on Wednesday refused a request by State Prosecutor Moshe Lador to claim immunity against a slander lawsuit filed by former prime minister Ehud Olmert.
The state argued that Lador had immunity because of his role as a public official, and could therefore not be sued in the civil suit, which the former prime minister attempted to do earlier this year after Lador gave an interview to the Hebrew language daily Haaretz. The newspaper is also named in Olmert’s suit.
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Judge Riva Niv criticized Lador for agreeing to the interview with Haaretz.
The judge said that the state prosecutor, as a senior Justice Ministry employee, could have “undermined public confidence both in the legal system and in law enforcement and prosecution authorities” by giving an interview on matters not being discussed in court.
Judge Niv added that the court has “already expressed its negative opinion of transferring judicial proceedings to the journalistic arena.”
“What is said in an interview by the state prosecutor is understood by the public as having been thoroughly checked,” the judge added.
In the interview, which Lador gave during the investigation into Olmert’s alleged involvement in the so-called Holyland Affair, the state prosecutor made references to the former prime minister’s ongoing corruption trial.
Olmert has claimed in his libel suit that in so doing, Lador attempted to influence the ongoing trial against him, and has accused the state prosecutor of defamation, breach of statutory duty and constitutional tort.
The former prime minister’s defense attorney, Eli Zohar, had argued that Lador’s request for immunity was “unreasonable” because in the Haaretz interview the state prosecutor touched on allegations for which Olmert is not being investigated or tried.
Judge Niv also said that the claim of breach of statutory duty “applies to [Lador] with greater force.”
The state attorney’s office requested Lador be granted immunity after the state prosecutor failed in an attempt to have the court delete the lawsuit.
Immunity from prosecution is granted to public servants in certain cases. However, the court ruled that Lador’s Haaretz interview was “irregular” and did not merit immunity.
“I accept [Olmert’s] position that the irregularity of the interview removes it from the scope of [Lador’s] regular duties,” said the judge.
Later on Wednesday, the state announced its intention to appeal the court’s decision in the District Court.
The Justice Ministry said in a statement that public officials cannot be tried personally for official acts carried out in the line of government duty.
The Deputy Attorney General, Sarit Dana, had decided on these grounds that Lador was immune from personal tort suits for his remarks in the Haaretz interview, the ministry spokesman said.
According to the Justice Ministry, that decision was made on the grounds of public interest in the matters dealt with by the state attorney’s office.
“The state prosecutor’s interview with Haaretz was an inseparable element of his role and was intended to promote the public’s interest and its trust in the state attorney’s office,” the Justice Ministry said.
The court’s decision to deny Lador immunity in the former prime minister’s civil suit comes as Olmert’s corruption trial enters its final stages in Jerusalem District Court.
The former prime minister is being tried alongside his former aide, Shula Zaken, on multiple charges of corruption and breach of trust.
The prosecution has been asked to submit its written arguments in the case by mid- December, after which the former prime minister’s defense team will be permitted to submit their own arguments.
Olmert denies all the charges against him in the corruption lawsuit.