Arrest him now, defend him later: Cops who become criminal lawyers
Israel Police is drafting a 'cooling off' bill that would prevent newly retired police lawyers from representing suspects whom they had been involved in bringing to justice.
Attorney Shai Tovim was standing outside a courtroom in Ramla a couple of months ago, waiting for the delayed start of a hearing for one of his clients, who is connected to the Hariri crime family from Taibeh. A few minutes before the start of the hearing, the attorney fielded a phone call. Police Superintendent Tomer Cohen, head of the homicide division for the police central district, was on the line. "I ask you not to represent anyone in this case," Cohen stressed. Ominously, he told the lawyer: "You were part of this investigation."
Up until a year ago, Cohen and Tovim collaborated on sensitive cases handled by the central district homicide squad. Among other things, the two tracked down suspects from the Abd al-Kadr and Hariri families from Taibeh, along with suspects from Lod, Ramla and Netanya. Today, just a year after leaving the police force and becoming a private attorney specializing in criminal cases, some of those suspects continue to engage Tovim's time - the only change being that they are now his clients.
Tovim's situation is far from the first of its kind. For instance, when police investigators entered Tel Aviv District Court in June 2006, awaiting the entrance of the notorious Asi Abutbul, they were startled to discover that the crime suspect's attorney was none other than Yair Regev. Just a short time before, Regev had served as a police chief superintendent involved in the investigation of extremely sensitive cases. Among other tasks, Regev had led the police crackdown on the gambling ships in Eilat - and some boats in this floating casino belonged to the Abutbul family. Regev had expertise in police procedures, as well as in-depth familiarity with the steps taken in his long hunt after what was regarded as the force's "number one suspect," Asi Abutbul.
Police who leave the force are restrained by the law from from disclosing concrete information they were exposed to while in uniform. Yet there is no "cooling off" law that prevents them from representing criminals the day after they turn in their badges.
Police officials are worried about this trend, and believe it could seriously impair their criminal investigations and possibly also pose a mortal threat to various individuals. As more ex-detectives become criminal attorneys, the head of the police intelligence and investigations unit, Maj. Gen. Yoav Segalovich, along with police legal specialists, have started to draft a "cooling off" bill that would apply to any policeman who leaves the force.
"They asked me, 'How can you do this? Don't you have a conscience? You're ruining our investigation,'" recalled Regev, referring to the 2006 Abutbul hearing. "They were angry that one of their own, someone who knows their secrets and work methods, suddenly went over to work for the other side." Regev says police think that if they know something, nobody else knows it, but in many cases that is a mistaken assumption. "The policemen who think that this [former policemen representing crime suspects in court] should be prohibited are people who believe that the police are the only body responsible for enforcing the law."
Regev's representation of Abutbul set a precedent: it was the first time a former senior police official had crossed the aisle in this way. Regev's work reached the desk of then-Public Security Minister Avi Dichter, but little action was taken. Regev's success in the case taught other policemen about the potential uses in the knowledge they accumulate while working on various criminal investigations.
One of the country's leading attorneys in white-collar crime, money laundering and gambling is Ronen Rosenblum, who has a rich background in police work. From 2002-2004, Rosenblum established the police division for money laundering, and handled major fraud and money-laundering investigations. But in 2004 he decided to leave the force and become a private attorney. A week after this career shift, Rosenblum represented Golan Avitan, who was suspected in a bomb attack against organized crime boss Ze'ev Rosenstein; the bomb explosion killed three citizens.
Rosenblum says he had not been interested in handling criminal cases of this kind, but saw it as a stepping stone toward the sort of work he wanted to do. Within a number of weeks of taking on Avitan's case, he became Arkadi Gaydamak's attorney. The criminal investigation against Gaydamak had started while Rosenblum was a policeman.
"The first time you stand in court against your former police colleagues is very hard, because they know you know things that aren't taught in law school," Rosenblum acknowledges.
A police official contends that "this situation in which a lawyer opposes you, and knows what's in your investigation file concerning his own client, must stop. If this wasn't a dangerous situation, it would be simply ridiculous."