TV program on man accused of killing 2 wives can air

Supreme Court reverses lower court which had ruled that protecting legal proceedings superseded free speech in this case.

Supreme Court President Asher Grunis 390 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)
Supreme Court President Asher Grunis 390 (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)
The Supreme Court on Thursday reversed a Tel Aviv District Court decision and accepted Channel 2’s appeal to air a program about Shimon Cooper, accused of murdering two of his three wives.
Tel Aviv District Court Judge Gidon Ginat had blocked the airing of the program on January 14. Ginat said that the value of sub judice, a term for preserving legal proceedings from undue outside interference, superseded the value of freedom of speech in this case.
He noted that the case involved murder allegations and that the prejudice to Cooper could be severe.
Supreme Court President Asher D. Grunis, in contrast, said that in this case the value of freedom of speech was more important. He said there were sufficient protections against unduly influencing the trial, since any undue influence could be prosecuted by the state.
The fact that the state might prosecute the creators of a television program which went over the line would deter the program’s producers from airing anything that might be problematic, said Grunis.
Grunis also said that other media had aired similar programs without asking Cooper’s permission and without being sued by Cooper, and that only Channel 2, who asked Cooper’s permission before airing its program, had been held back.
He added that this was unfair persecution of the one media outlet that had been extra responsible and noted that the program in question gave a response to Cooper’s lawyer, fulfilling any concerns about balance.
Next, Grunis noted that many cases involving freedom of speech and airing programs were fought after the program had aired and its negative impact could be quantified.
In contrast, preventing a program from airing at all is a much more extreme act to take and should only rarely be done, said Grunis.
Formally, the court’s rejection of the lower court’s decision, which had granted Cooper’s request to block the program, was based on the suspect’s failure to pay certain standard court fees and his failure to submit sworn affidavits in support of his request.
While the lower court had noted this issue and penalized Cooper on a procedural level only, Grunis said that such issues were substantive – if there were no testimony and no sworn affidavits, then there was no objective basis for a court to grant a request.
The court panel also included Noam Sohlberg and Esther Hayot. Whereas Hayot agreed more fully with Grunis, Sohlberg supported the ultimate decision of letting the program air on the basis of Cooper’s failure to submit sworn affidavits, but disagreed strongly with Grunis on the balancing of priorities.
Sohlberg said that if anything, the trend among most nations with similar legal principles, such as England, has been to adapt the principle of sub judice to modern times, not to abandon it.
He noted that the United States has been heavily criticized by many legal commentators for embracing freedom of speech more heavily over the sub judice principle, and that the US position on the issue is viewed as an aberration.
In that light, Sohlberg said that freedom of speech should be curbed where it threatened someone like Cooper whose fate was in the balance in the trial.
In terms of the case itself, the Central District Attorney’s Office filed a request to amend its indictment against the alleged serial con man on March 19 to add a charge of murdering his first wife to go along with the murder charges regarding his third wife.
The amended indictment, including – for the first time – definitive charges against Cooper for the murder of Orit Cooperschmidt, was filed in the Lod District Court.
A web of lies, scams and a fictional story about a Mossad hit overseas are at the center of the case, initially filed in November.
The new charges arose from additional investigative activities that shed new light on Cooper’s alleged method of operation in general, and regarding his first wife in particular.
According to the new charges, Cooper murdered Orit (the prosecution is still unclear how) and then set up a scene to make it look like she had committed suicide by overdosing.
Cooper then allegedly called family members and police, covering his tracks by being the person who notified everyone.
In the original indictment, the Central District Attorney’s Office alleged that the 51-yearold Cooper was a serial con man who seduced and married his third wife Jenny Cooper and then murdered her on the night of August 20-21, 2009.
Originally, police had closed the Cooper case until Channel 2 aired a program about the alleged murders on March 25, 2010 which caused a public uproar and led to a reopening of the investigation and the eventual indictment.
The program being debated before the courts was supposed to be a follow-up program on the issue.