The special panel of judges appointed for the trial of former President Moshe Katsav is comprised of the chair, the meticulous Judge George Karra, and two women judges, Miriam Sokolov, who has vast experience in sex crimes cases, and Judith Shevach, who once showed leniency to a defendant due to her disapproval of the media conduct around his trial.
All three judges have heard complicated organized crime cases, and they were expected to run the Katsav trial quickly and efficiently.
At the outset, they announced they would hear the parties four times a week, provoking fire from the Katsav defense team, which boasts two of the busiest attorneys in the country. The team tried to resign in protest, but was barred from doing so by the court.
Although the former president's associates have expressed doubts any judge would have the courage to acquit Katsav in the wake of the outrage met by former attorney general Menachem Mazuz, who approved a plea bargain in the case, courage is one characteristic the judges are not known to be lacking.
Although Karra has no experience of sex crime cases, he is well-known for his effective handling of the trial of the Hariri crime family, in which he handed out a number of severe verdicts. These verdicts resulted in threats against him, and he was assigned personal bodyguards, a rarity for the Israeli judiciary.
Karra, who was called to the bar in 1975 and became a Magistrate's Court judge in 1989, has also tried cases of corruption among senior officials in El Al, Bezeq and Bank Hapoalim.
Miriam Sokolov, called to the bar in 1971, was appointed to the Tel Aviv District Court in July 2002. Apart from extensive experience in sex crime cases, she has also tried several cases focusing on organized crime. She was the judge in the case of Eitan Farchi, dubbed by the press the DNA rapist, who was sentenced to 25 years in prison for rape and other sexual offenses on the strength of evidence illegally obtained by the police.
Sokolov also sat on the panel that discussed the case of Asi Abutbul, who was sentenced to 13 years in prison as the kingpin of a criminal organization.
Katsav's defense team spent 200 pages of its concluding remarks on the argument that he had already convicted by the media and thus lost any chance of a fair trial. Judge Judith Shevach has once before criticized the conduct of the media in a high profile case and said this merited leniency toward the defendant.
That decision was in the trial of attorney Avigdor "Dori" Klagsbald, convicted of negligence in the car accident death of a woman and her son. Shevach, called to the bar in 1977 and appointed to the District Court in 2006, wrote at the time that "there is nothing wrong in brining up an issue for public debate, but there is a difference between public debate and an attempt to influence the outcome of a trial.... The media is the watchdog of democracy and as such it should guard, not bite." She also sat on a panel of judges in a case involving a crime organization and the drug trade.
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