The suicide this week of a Jerusalem judge who reported feeling overwhelmed by his strenuous workload highlighted an issue that has burdened the judicial system for years.
"Most judges can handle the heavy workload," retired Tel Aviv District Court Judge Hayuta Kochan, who left the bench after 19 years, said yesterday. "But, like always, there are those who complain and those who have to carry the stretcher."
Kochan has presided over a number of high profile cases over the years, including the infamous kiss case involving former minister Haim Ramon.
"The workload on the courts has become heavier over the years," Kochan said. "I remember when I first started judging cases, the work was quite regular and not particularly stressful. The problem started when the number of cases grew, and the cases became more complicated. The courts began to take on mega-cases, and the pressure and workload just kept growing."
While the judicial system has strived to lighten the load by adding more judges, building more courts, renting more office space and hiring more aides and administrators, the judge is still the one who bears the overall responsibility for managing the courtroom and handing down decisions.
Kochan said her workday usually began at 8:30 A.M. and, at times, stretched into the wee hours of the night. She also took some of her work home. It was not unusual for her to be reviewing cases on weekends.
When asked how many cases she oversaw daily, Kochan said that it varied. On some days, she dealt with 60 cases.
Kochan is a former vice president of the Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court. One of her responsibilities was to monitor the ability of judges to keep up with their caseloads. While most judges managed to handle their workloads, those who could not were provided with help, she said.
In addition, a few judges who could not keep up with the pace of cases in the initial stages quit. Kochan often advised judges to write brief, concise verdicts. She said that judges would often put off issuing their verdicts, thereby causing cases to pile up. Kochan said that a judge's individual personality and habits were often key elements in determining whether he or she could keep up with the workload.
"There are judges who speak slowly and eat slowly," she said. "Everyone has their own personality. A judge can try and correct himself, but no matter how many times they were spoken to and told not to write long verdicts, ultimately it's an individual matter. A judge is left to decide whatever it is he sees fit."
Kochan does not believe that the courts have been overly demanding in their bid to expedite cases that have yet to be adjudicated due to the delays.
"As vice president of the magistrate's court, if judges who worked under me did not keep up with the workload, I would speak to them calmly and generously," she said.
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