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Tel Aviv District Court Judge George Karra, renowned for his sentencing of the Hariri clan, is the leading candidate to preside over the panel that will judge the case of former President Moshe Katsav, Haaretz has learned.

Karra was approached earlier this week by judge Dvora Berliner, vice president of the Tel Aviv District Court and supervisor of its criminal department, who determines the constitution of panels in such cases. Karra has yet to accept the nomination, which would entail frequent and perhaps even daily hearings. Berliner herself is a candidate for both the Supreme Court and presidency of the district court, and will not be joining the panel.

Karra was raised in Jaffa and practiced as a private lawyer for 14 years before being appointed to the Magistrates Court in 1989, proceeding to the Tel Aviv District Court in 2000. He has a reputation as an independent and strong-minded judge. Karra presided over many cases of severe violence, theft, weapons, drugs and firearms offenses, and often prefers to work on his own rather than be part of a judging panel. A study of the hundreds of verdicts delivered by Karra reveals that he rarely judged sexual offenses cases in recent years.

According to colleagues, Karra is considered to be a businesslike judge, neither permissive nor strict. "Kara is not identified with the prosecution or with the state attorney," a lawyer who frequently appeared before the judge said yesterday. "He doesn't approach cases with prejudice. He also understands the workings of a man, because he is connected to the ordinary people on the street. He comes from the field, unlike many district court judges who grew up within the attorney general's office," the lawyer said.

Another jurist and close friend of Karra, retired judge Shelly Timen, said yesterday he was hoping Karra will be appointed to judge the former president. "He's straight as a ruler, doesn't fear journalists, feminists or Hariri. He's a real man. He can conduct the trial superbly, he's a pro", said the retired judge.

Enough experience

Timen also said that Karra participated in a number of panels judging sexual offense cases, and was therefore experienced enough to judge Katsav.

Karra is perhaps best known for his sentencing of the Hariri clan members. In 2007, Karra sent the leaders of the crime organization, Gemmal Hariri-Ayat and his brother Iyad to 15 and 14 years in prison respectively. Three more defendants in the case received sentences of 11 years. The five were convicted on a variety of charges, including extortion, firearms offenses, arson, firing a weapon in residential areas and aggravated assault.

The verdicts were followed by extraordinary security measures being assigned to the judge, including personal bodyguards, bomb experts checking his vehicle several times daily, and security cameras and increased patrols around his house and office.

A lawyer who declined to be named said, however, that Karra is "somewhat patronizing. He is never afraid to confront both sides in the courtroom, to remind them he's above them all," she said.

Besides Karra, the panel of judges is set to include two other members, one of them a woman. Some of the names mentioned in that respect are judges Tchia Shapira, Sara Dotan and Nurit Ahituv, as well as members of the panel currently deliberating the case of alleged underworld figure Assi Abutbul, Miriam Sokolov and David Rozen.

Another candidate to sit alongside Karra is former IDF attorney general Uri Shoham, who colleagues describe as a quick, organized and effective judge.

The makeup of the panel to judge former President Katsav is expected to be announced in the coming days.