Mayors Facing Trial Can Run, but They Can’t Hide From High Court

Court warns three mayors with charges pending that they shouldn’t count on reclaiming their seats, even if they win Oct. 22 municipal race.

Mayors who are reelected despite pending indictments against them may still be ousted by the High Court of Justice, the court said Monday.

A month ago, the court ruled that Upper Nazareth Mayor Shimon Gapso and Ramat Hasharon Mayor Yitzhak Rochberger must resign because they had been indicted, but were free to run again in the municipal elections scheduled for October 22. The reasoning behind this decision, however, was published only Monday, and it included the answer to a question the court didn’t address when it originally announced its verdict: what would happen if they were in fact reelected.

“Our reasons are being given now in consideration of the timing of the October 22 elections, in order to allow the parties, and others, to consider their steps,” Justice Miriam Naor wrote for the court, in a broad hint to all three indicted mayors running for reelection: Rochberger, Gapso and Bat Yam’s Shlomo Lahiani.

She was joined by justices Esther Hayut, Edna Arbel, Elyakim Rubinstein, Zvi Zylbertal and Neal Hendel. Supreme Court President Asher Grunis was the lone dissenter.

Naor said that if a city council decided not to oust an indicted mayor, this decision would be unreasonable in the extreme, and the court therefore had the right to overturn it. This would be true even if the indictment were filed before the election, meaning the public was fully aware of the charges when it chose to reelect him, she said.

“The question is whether, once the voter has had his say, that’s the end of the story, and the voter’s decision must be accepted without further thought,” she wrote. “My answer to this is negative... in my view, the voter’s will is one of the considerations that must be taken into account in this situation, but the voter’s will cannot be the supreme consideration that overrides all others.”

Nevertheless, Naor added, the right to run for office is a fundamental one, so even a mayor facing trial must be allowed to seek reelection. She acknowledged that this could create a situation in which a mayor wins an election only to be ousted immediately afterward, thereby turning the election into a pointless exercise, but said this problem could be solved only by legislation.

In an ideal world, Naor said, people who are facing trial would not run for office and would be pushed out of their political parties if they tried. In such a world, voters would also refuse to elect someone facing trial and there would be no reason for the court to intervene.

But in the real world, elected officials facing serious charges cannot be granted “immunity” from being ousted even if they are reelected, wrote Naor. Doing so, she said, would be “liable to bring about corruption” and cannot be permitted, given the severe blow that such an election victory would be to public ethics, the democratic system and the rule of law.