In surprise move, Holyland trial judge nixes delay

State had asked for postponement following death of key witness on Friday; Olmert among 16 defendants in real estate graft trial.

The Holyland Tower in Jerusalem 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
The Holyland Tower in Jerusalem 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Judge David Rozen on Monday shocked both the state and the defense by rejecting a request for a month-long postponement of the Holyland trial, following the death of the state’s main witness on Friday.
The postponement was requested in order to have sufficient time to prepare a new batch of witnesses to testify.
The Tel Aviv District Court judge ordered the state to call its next witness on Tuesday and said the case would continue moving at its breakneck pace of four days of hearings each week.
The ruling was surprising as many judges treat adjournment requests, especially after an extreme circumstance such as the sudden death of the main witness, with significant deference.
It was also surprising because the request was supported by both the state and defense attorneys, including one of the leading attorneys, Giora Aderet.
S.D., as the main witness is referred to under a gag order still in place despite his death, was laid to rest on Sunday after multiple hospitalizations and a long history of poor health.
The court indicated that although it understood the request had some justification, the state had a “bank” of witnesses prepared for just these circumstances because several times in the past it has had to call other witnesses during multiple S.D. hospitalizations.
The court added that S.D. had planned to take a break from testifying in the near future for some medical procedures, so the state had even anticipated calling other witnesses around this time.
Still, the decision makes both the state’s job and the defense attorneys’ jobs harder.
Many of the events in the case go back a decade or more and the state must now rush to refresh the memory of the other witnesses, who may each be testifying about a small part of the case and may not easily recall all of what they told the state or police during earlier rounds of questioning.
The defense attorneys will not even know until later Monday who the state will be calling to testify on Tuesday, and will need to rush to prepare cross-examinations in very little time.
After the ruling, the court also held a shortened day of hearings, listening to testimony from Arnon Rochkovsky regarding the alleged bribery charges against former chairman of Bank Hapoalim and Israel Salt Industries Dan Dankner and former Israel Lands Authority head Yaakov Efrati.
The court’s ruling knocks out rumors which had circulated Sunday that the state might ask for an even longer delay to weigh the possibility of completely changing its approach to the case.
The ruling might also indicate that the court will not look kindly on motions by the defendants for a mistrial and wishes to continue with the case as planned.
Another sign of this possibility was that Dankner filed a request to Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein to cancel the case against him, but did not make a similar request to the court.
Dankner is one of eight defendants who did not get to cross-examine S.D. before he died (though another eight defendants did crossexamine S.D.), and can therefore legally try to claim that his right to a fair trial has been irrevocably harmed.
The court also announced that it will decide on Tuesday a request to remove the gag order on S.D.’s identity.
The decision is an indication that the court will remove the gag order, as the court ignored the state’s request that the order remain in place at least until S.D.’s family has completed its shiva mourning period.