Judge goes on sabbatical and suspected rapist goes free
Tel Aviv District Court President President Uri Goren yesterday ordered district court Judge Hadassah Ahituv-Hartman to close the case of an alleged serial sexual assailant prior to her upcoming sabbatical or she would have to cancel her planned break.
The decision came after Supreme Court Justice Dalia Dorner yesterday relased the suspect from a 15-month remand that was to be extended until May of next year, upon the return of Ahituv-Hartman from her sabbatical.
Yitzhak Azulai, 55, is accused of serious sexual offenses against seven women from Morocco whom he had brought to Israel for the purpose of tending to elderly people; Azulai heads a manpower service in Ra'anana that specializes in bringing foreign workers to take care of elderly citizens.
According to law, a suspect who has been in detention for nine months prior to the beginning of trial can be remanded for no more than 90 additional days, unless there are special circumstances, and in which case requires a Supreme Court justice's decision.
In Azulai's case, the 90-day extension was granted by a Supreme Court justice three times on the grounds that the suspect is a threat to the public. Indictments have also been submitted against Azulai's wife, sister and father, who are suspected of trying to persuade the abused women to retract their complaints. The three are charged with suborning witnesses and obstructing justice.
But Dorner turned down the latest remand extension request, calling "the system's constraints" - meaning Ahituv-Hartman's sabbatical - not sufficient cause for a further delay. "The use of remand extensions must only be used for particularly unusual cases, and it cannot be unlimited in time," she said.
Dorner's decision angered the Tel Aviv District Court, where sources said she could have found another way to reach the same result without blaming the court system. For example, she could have postponed her decision by two weeks and give Goren a way to solve the problem. The sources said the results of her decision is intolerable, but the cause is reasonable: the length of the trial and the case load in a court where five judges are either on sabbatical or planning one. Indeed, many judges make commitments to teach or postpone medical surgery during their sabbatical year.
Supreme Court President Justice Aharon Barak has instructed judges to finish hearing cases before taking sabbaticals, but Azulai's case is awaiting only the written verdict, since both sides have finished their summations.