After 23 Years, Court Rules on NIS 207 Compensation Claim

Nearly 23 years after Eyal Shalom filed a suit at the Jerusalem Labor Court against his former employer for NIS 207 he said was owed him, his case has finally come to an end.

In one of the most embarrassing cases the Israeli legal system has seen, a panel for civil appeals at the Jerusalem District Court made one final effort to reach a compromise between Shalom and the court administration. Shalom had sued the court administration for damages because of the many years he has waited for a decision by the Labor Court.

The District Court judges proposed yesterday to raise the sum of compensation that a Magistrates Court had decided on six months ago. They also suggested something that for Shalom is more important: to erase a ruling by the Magistrate's Court that blamed Shalom for being insufficiently active over the years in pressing for a ruling in his case.

"I have been chasing NIS 207 for 23 years, and now it is over," Shalom said yesterday in a half-amused, half-dispirited tone. "I am satisfied that they did not chastise me for not doing enough to secure a ruling. What should a person do more? Go to the judge's home? Beg for a ruling? This suit could have been over in a day, but they drew it out over three years on appeal. Something is not functioning well in this country."

The story began in 1987, when Shalom, who was represented by attorney Amos Givon, worked as a driver in a car rental company that has since gone under. Shalom claimed that his employer owed him 17 days of salary, valued at NIS 207, and filed suit at the Jerusalem Labor Court. He also asked for compensation for the delay in payment of the wages.

The case was brought before now-retired judge Elisheva Barak. The parties are in dispute over whether a ruling was made on the case.

In January 1994, Shalom appealed to the president of the National Labor Court, Menachem Goldberg, and complained that he had not received a ruling in his case. By May 2005 Shalom filed a complaint with the public complaints commissioner against retired judge Tova Strasberg-Cohen, who checked and found that the case file was missing from the Labor Court.

Two years later, Shalom filed a damages suit against the court administration at the Jerusalem Magistrate Court. Shalom asked for NIS 100,000, half of which would be punitive damages. Magistrate's Court Judge Maurice Benatar, who received the case, tried to piece the case together without much success. In his ruling last September he said that it is impossible to conclude whether a ruling had been made in the original case, or whether it only reached a stage where a ruling was supposed to have been made.

Moreover, the judge criticized Shalom for not doing enough to secure a ruling, and discarded his complaints to the various authorities. Benatar also charged that Shalom should not have appealed to the court's secretariat but to judge Barak, and ruled that as a result he is half to blame for the delay, and therefore the judge halved the compensation sum.

After decades of waiting, Shalom was sent home with NIS 104, adjusted with interest and inflation to NIS 1,987, which came to about NIS 5,000 for his trouble and court costs.

Shalom appealed to the Jerusalem District Court.

The three District Court judges looked a little embarrassed yesterday. It is not every day that they have to deal with a case that criticizes their own judicial system. Judge Itzhak Inbar, with his colleagues' support, suggested canceling Benatar's ruling.

The judges recommended that the compensation be increased to NIS 15,000, in addition to the wages Shalom had demanded in 1987, plus lawyers' and court costs. Shalom agreed and the court administration gave its consent, in principle, and will soon formally announce its final decision.