Story Highlights

  • Irit Baumhorn was the senior prosecutor in the Jerusalem District's Prosecutor's Office who headed the team dealing with the Katsav case until she chose to resign.
Protestors outside Moshe Katsav hearing - Tal Cohen
Protestors outside Moshe Katsav’s sentencing hearing, March 22, 2011. The signs read “We believe you,” referring to the victims in the rape and assault case. Photo by Tal Cohen
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Moti Milrod
Irit Baumhorn. Photo by Moti Milrod

Irit Baumhorn was the senior prosecutor in the Jerusalem District's Prosecutor's Office who headed the team dealing with the Katsav case until she chose to resign when former Attorney General Menahem Mazuz decided not to include the complaint of "A" from the President's Residence in the indictment against the former president.

About a year ago, she retired from the state prosecution after 24 years in the service, and she now is a defense attorney specializing mainly in white collar crime. She is defending Major General Uri Bar-Lev of the Israel Police, who is suspected of sex crimes.

What were your thoughts when you heard the judges' majority decision to send former president Moshe Katsav to jail for seven years.

I thought that after too long a time, justice had finally been served. But - together with that - I felt a sense of pity for Katsav.

Why pity?

Even though he's a criminal who showed no mercy to his victims, it isn't easy to see a person at the lowest point of his life, especially when he has just received the punishment he deserves, as he should have. As an attorney, when you see the accused at the low point of his life, you can't remain apathetic. There were a few times in my life when I didn't feel that kind of feeling - as I didn't in the case of Eli Pimstein, who murdered his little daughter. We are human beings. Katsav also has a family, children.

What did you think about how many years he would be sentenced to?

I thought he would get fewer years. Seven years' imprisonment is certainly in the sphere of an accepted punishment for a case of that kind, though it is the top threshold. However,it's clear to me it's an appropriate and correct punishment, and not one to cause complaint.

As someone who thoroughly knows all the testimonies and the plaintiffs personally, can you say that Katsav got what he deserved?

The answer is yes, with the reservation about "A" from the President's Residence, who was left out of the indictment, and my heart goes out to her.

Do you think that if "A" from the President's Residence had been included in the indictment against Katsav, the sentence would have been different?

I don't know whether the sentence would have been different. Anyway, that's not what is important here. What is important is that she would have had the opportunity for the court to hear her testimony. To state that she was telling the truth and thus to go on with her life. She did not get this right from the court.

Let's talk about the court's attack on the media. To what extent was the court's attack something irregular?

The media coverage was undoubtedly out of order. I can't point to specific people who are to blame, but I think we have to learn from this case for the future. Possibly the ethics committee of the Israel Press Council should examine this case and draw conclusions. This is a watershed and worth examining and deciding whether the media continues in the same vein or whether this constitutes irregular conduct because we are talking about a special accused. I'd be happy if conclusions were drawn from the media coverage of the affair.

Do you think that the "sentencing" [of Katsav] on the part of the media should have constituted a reason for a lighter sentence?

Yes, but I also think Katsav and those close to him took part in the media game. At the same time, I still believe he was heavily punished even before the trial by the media coverage.

Judge Yehudit Shevah, in her minority opinion, also referred to remarks by Mazuz that in effect decided Katsav's fate even before the decision to indict him and before trial.

The remark by Mazuz was certainly verboten. It's impossible to know what effect this remark had on the media when speaking about a kangaroo court, even before the court trial. It's possible this was the trigger that gave everyone the signal to decide what Katsav had done even before the trial opened.

This is a day of satisfaction for the state prosecution. Do you think it also should be a day of stocktaking?

The stocktaking should have begun a long time ago, but the prosecution is deferring it. I think it's a day of pride for the law enforcement authorities but the way in which decisions were made in the prism of this specific case has to be examined so lessons are learned for future cases. I never asked for heads to roll but how decisions were made must be examined. Was the decision making at the various crossroads of the case correct?

No less important is to examine the prosecution in the High Court of Justice, in the response to the petitions against the deal signed with Katsav. I ask how does the prosecution can attack a plaintiff and go hand-in-hand with Katsav's defense lawyers?

Today, again, people are wondering how it is that Katsav doesn't express regret and still claims everything is a plot against him. As a prosecutor, have you come across a pattern of behavior like this on the part of a sex criminal? A great many times. It's a well-known pattern, as if everything is a plot and he doesn't know why they have framed him - unjust accusations. I hope for him that in prison he will begin to internalize and understand the things he did. It will only help him personally and from the legal point of view.

Did you contact any of the plaintiffs in the past few days?

I am in touch with some of them, but I don't want to say with whom because my connection with some of them is based on a great deal of trust in the way things were correctly handled since 2006. I am partner to their sigh of relief and their possibility of opening a new page in their lives.

On the personal and professional level, do you feel you missed out on the day of sentencing, because you're not there, although it's a case you dealt with and believed in?

Absolutely not. In all the 24 years I was in the state prosecution and also in the year that I've been a private defense attorney, I wouldn't make concessions concerning my professional integrity. The case was placed in good hands with other attorneys. As for myself, I wasn't able to deal with the case in the situation that was created.