Supreme Court Justice Yoram Danziger Monday lashed out at last month’s ruling by his fellow justices which ousted several mayors facing legal charges.
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Danziger was barred from sitting on any of the cases due to his close friendship with one indicted mayor, Shlomo Lahiani of Bat Yam. But in a ruling Monday in a separate case, he criticized the decision regarding the mayors, saying that since no law barred indicted mayors from continuing to serve, unless and until they are convicted, the court had no legal authority to rule as it did.
He also sided with the lone dissenter in that 6-1 ruling, Supreme Court President Asher Grunis, who said that since new municipal elections were scheduled for October 22, voters should be allowed to decide whether the indicted mayors deserved to stay in office, and the court should respect the voters’ decision.
In March, Danziger recused himself from hearing the first such case, against the continued tenure of Ramat Gan Mayor Zvi Bar. It was clear at the time that the ruling would have implications for Lahiani’s fate. Nevertheless, the Courts Administration insisted that he recuse himself “for reasons relating to this case, not to another case.”
Danziger’s criticism of last month’s mayoral ousters was prompted by a petition related to the municipal race in Ma’aleh Iron. The petition challenged Central Elections Committee chairman Salim Joubran’s decision that a crime committed by one Jamal Agbaria involved moral turpitude, which prevented Agbaria from running for the municipal council.
The main ruling on the petition was written by Justice Elyakim Rubinstein, who was part of the 6-1 majority that ousted Ramat Hasharon Mayor Yitzhak Rochberger and Upper Nazareth Mayor Shimon Gapso last month. Rubinstein cited that ruling in his verdict on Agbaria’s case, declaring it a shining example of “a judicial policy of being strict about clean hands and probity in the public service.”
That sparked an angry retort from Danziger in his concurring opinion on Agbaria, and he used it as a springboard for lambasting the entire ruling on the indicted mayors.
“I’d like to make a comment about this court’s role in protecting public faith [in government],” Danziger began. In the current case, he said, he agreed with Rubinstein’s conclusion that Agbaria’s crimes – illegal assembly and assaulting a policeman – made him unfit to run for office.
Nevertheless, he continued, the case before the court differed significantly from the Rochberger-Gapso case. “For in the current case, this court was explicitly entrusted by the legislature with setting the ‘public norm’ by means of defining the term ‘turpitude.’ That’s in contrast to [the Rochberger-Gapso case], which dealt with the question of whether mayors who had been indicted but not yet convicted were fit to continue serving and to run in municipal elections, when there is no explicit law that forbids them from serving or running in such cases.”
Regarding the issue of whether the court should honor voters’ decision to reelect an indicted mayor, he added, “I’m not ashamed to admit that I lean toward President A. Grunis’ stance on this matter.”
Danziger has known Lahiani since the 1990s, when Lahiani rented a house from Danziger’s mother. Danziger subsequently represented Lahiani in several cases before the latter entered city hall represented the municipality as an external lawyer after Lahiani became mayor.
At one time, their ties even led to Danziger being investigated on suspicion of giving Lahiani free legal services in exchange for getting legal work from the municipality. But Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein subsequently concluded that no crime had been committed, enabling Danziger – by then a justice – to resume his Supreme Court seat.