The president of the Supreme Court has recommended only minor sanctions against Judge Varda Alshech for illegally altering a court transcript in order to strengthen a complaint she submitted to the Israel Bar Association against an attorney.
In a letter to Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman, Supreme Court President Asher Grunis wrote that Alshech should be severely reprimanded and a note should be added to her personal record. But, he wrote, she should not be ousted nor should a complaint be filed against her with the Judicial Disciplinary Court.
Grunis noted that judicial ombudsman Eliezer Goldberg, who issued a harsh report against Alshech, could have recommended that a complaint be filed against Alshech or that she be removed. It must be taken into consideration that he chose not to do either of those, Grunis wrote.
He also noted that Alshech is one of the senior judges in the courts, that she presided over complex and important financial cases, and that she is scheduled to step down in two years. But the Israel Bar Association's central district chairman, Effi Naveh, insisted that Alshech's seniority should have, in fact, weighed against her, instead of working in her favor.
In his June report, in which Goldberg criticized Alshech, he wrote that "A ruling read by a judge in court is not a 'grade b' document that can be altered by the judge later. In this case we can determine that the judge was not authorized to alter or change her decision."
Grunis wrote that Goldberg's decision did not claim that Alshech's changes to the transcript did not reflect what indeed happened and what was said in court. "One must note," Grunis wrote, "that there is a substantial difference between factual changes that have no basis in reality ... as opposed to changes that do not match the law as to the way in which the change was done. Thus, one cannot refer to this case as 'forging' a transcript."
Still, he wrote, "It is superfluous to mention that one cannot take the ombudsman's findings lightly. When an amendment to the ruling or transcript is carried out, it must be done only according to law. I made it clear to Judge Alshech that I view her actions gravely, and warned her not to repeat such moves. Naturally, the ombudsman's decision is important, as far as Alshech or any other judge is concerned."
Naveh took issue with Grunis' decision, saying that the facts, as determined by Goldberg's report, "necessitate sanctions against Alshech, and at the very least she should face a disciplinary hearing.
"If President Grunis will choose in the future to complain about the perpetual decrease in the judicial system's standing, he will be reminded of today's decision. One can expect those who judge other people's behavior on a daily basis, to be able to criticize one of their own, as well."
Alshech announced Friday that she was quitting her chairmanship of the judges' representative group. Judicial sources said the move was aimed at reducing any potential punishment she might receive for her actions. In an email she sent to other judges in the representative group, she did not mention the "doctored transcripts" affair, and explained her decision by saying she completed dealing with the issues she took upon herself in her role as chairwoman.
In a letter sent last week to Grunis and Neeman, five district heads of the Bar Association wrote, "We believe that the severity of the ombudsman's report speaks for itself and at the very least necessitates a disciplinary hearing and temporary suspension, or putting the matter before the Judges' Selection Committee."
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