Supreme Court President Blasts Ex-judges Who Criticized Holyland Sentences

Tough sentence for former PM Olmert was unjustly criticized, Grunis says, slams retired judges for joining 'media chatter.'

Emil Salman

Supreme Court President Asher Grunis slammed retired judges who publicly criticized the rulings in the Holyland corruption case, wondering “what those same retired judges would say if they were still on the bench and other retired judges would express themselves similarly.”

Grunis was speaking at the 14th annual Israel Bar Association Conference that opened yesterday in Eilat.

Two weeks ago Tel Aviv District Court David Rozen sentenced former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to six years’ imprisonment for bribery, and meted out tough sentences to six other defendants in the case. “A public servant who accepts bribes is akin to a traitor,” said Rozen in sentencing Olmert. “The man betrayed the trust placed in him, without which a properly run public service cannot be established or maintained.”

Among those criticizing the rulings in the Holyland case were former courts administrator Judge Dan Arbel and former Tel Aviv District Court Judge Amnon Straschnov.

Grunis said, “Many elements try to influence the judicial process. Litigants hire lobbyists, media advisers and PR people whose purpose is to influence public opinion and create a public mood about the matter before the court.

“Sometimes the festival is conducted even before the ruling is issued, with the intent of influencing the court,” Grunis said. “Various respondents hurry to express their opinion on the issue. In some of the cases the commentators admit that they haven’t even read the decision or the ruling. All this doesn’t stop them from creating a public mood aimed not just at [influencing] the decision, but at the judge issuing the decision. It very much pains me that we even find retired judges among the speakers and chatterers.”

Grunis also addressed the technological changes and attacks on judges on social networks and in minor media outlets.

“At issue are not just crucial or famous cases,” he said. “On the contrary, many times we can see efforts to influence the judicial process particularly in outlying areas, in local papers and independent blogs. The judicial system finds itself operating in this concoction of information, some of which is not admissible, that they try to bring into the courtroom, and some of the information from the courtroom is reported inaccurately.

“Judges don’t live in an ivory tower, which is a good thing,” Grunis continued. “They are part of society and they read newspapers and are aware of the public discourse surrounding a certain issue. Their professionalism is not tested, nor is it meant to be tested, by the question of how disengaged they are from public discourse or if they are influenced or not influenced by the various media outlets.”

The problem, concluded Grunis, is that “the media discourse creates an expectation among the public that the court will make a certain legal decision, and when there is no congruence between the expectation and reality, the public’s trust in the judiciary is undermined.”

State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan told the gathering that the public’s too-forgiving attitude toward certain defendants was making it harder to fight corruption.

“It sometimes seems that many people in Israel have already given up, as if they’ve gotten used to the phenomenon of corruption, and they relate to it almost casually,” Nitzan said. “Perhaps this stems from the feeling of helplessness or a lack of faith in the ability to change this reality. Another possible explanation is the forgiving approach, often demonstrably so, to those who transgress. Contributing to this are those who run between television studios to explain, sometimes inadvertently, that the actions for which the people were convicted – and I’m not referring to any specific case – are “almost normative” and that they are being ‘persecuted.’ This sometimes includes a direct attack on the court, the prosecution, and the police, attributing irrelevant considerations to all these authorities.

“With no connection to the Holyland case necessarily, we cannot accept a situation that when the result of the trial is to someone’s benefit, the courts are praised, while when the result goes against them, poisoned barbs of personal criticism are aimed at the court,” Nitzan said. He added, “Only when those who are convicted of these crimes will suffer general social condemnation, and not benefit from a forgiving, considerate, understanding attitude, will we know that we have a real chance to eliminate this phenomenon.”

Jasmin Gueta contributed to this report.