Work Stoppage Shines Harsh Spotlight on Lawyers' Plights

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Despair was written all over Eyad Nujeidat's face yesterday.

He recalled his youthful days spent dazzling observers on soccer pitches in the north of the country.

"People predicted a great future for me. I could have gone very far. I think I could have made it to Europe," he said. "But my father would hear none of it. He wanted me to be a lawyer. Today I'm starting to regret [listening to him]."

Nujeidat, 35, is from the village of the same name in the Lower Galilee. He has practiced law for nine years. "The struggle for our livelihood is becoming more difficult by the day, particularly when everywhere you look there's another lawyer," he said.

More than anything, it's the prosecutors strike that has made him reconsider his profession.

"The strike is the straw that broke the camel's back. It's been almost two weeks now that I've come to court not knowing whether there will be a hearing or not. In the best-case scenario, there is a last-minute announcement," Nujeidat said.

"Even when there is no strike and the system is working as usual, it's slow and convoluted. A hearing scheduled for 9:00 A.M. will often start at noon, and we're often forced to wait four hours just for the reading of the indictment. This year has broken all records. I think we've worked a total of 20 days since June."

First there was the secretaries strike, then the summer recess, the High Holidays, and now the prosecutors strike.

"How can anybody lead such a life?" Nujeidat asked.

"Many times you get your money from the client only at the end of a case. What about before that? Under these circumstances, trials last very long. My financial situation is beginning to look very bleak. It's not an easy time, and I don't know what will be tomorrow," he said.

"People have to understand that prosecutors like myself live off of these cases. Not everyone takes home tens of thousands of dollars per trial."

The situation is strikingly similar in Be'er Sheva's courts, which are usually the country's most burdened. The security guards had little work to do yesterday. From sheer boredom, they began doing crossword puzzles.

The nearby coffee shops, which are usually bustling with lawyers, remained desolate.

There is a near consensus among attorneys on the justness of the strike launched by their prosecutor colleagues.

But the strike's ramifications are a subject of disagreement.

"The strike is completely justified in my view. The prosecutors work long hours and are not compensated properly," said Eyal Avital, an attorney.

"Still, the rights of those who are arrested and accused of crimes are infringed in the process. Plea-bargain negotiations that began with prosecutors are stopped in their tracks and evidentiary-stage arguments are halted. This is a serious blow to the rights of defendants and their right to due process. We can't reach a situation in which judges become de facto prosecutors."



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