Courtroom Vitriol Spurs Inquiry of J'lem Judge

Two investigations are currently underway involving the abuse of patients at Eitanim Psychiatric Hospital. In one case, under deliberation by Jerusalem District Court Judge Zvi Segal, criminal charges have been made against the hospital staff. The second case is an investigation of Segal himself, by the commissioner of complaints against judges, retired Supreme Court justice Eliezer Goldberg.

Judge Zvi Segal
Emil Salman

A complaint against Segal was submitted by attorney Yaakov Kamar, who represents Dana Ben-Meir, a former chief nurse at Eitanim, who has been indicted for improper treatment of patients.

Attorney Yaakov Kamar
Tess Scheflan

The verbal exchanges between Kamar and Segal have grown so heated as to make the proceedings impossible, according to other lawyers involved in the case.

The vitriol reached new heights a few days ago, and the head of the Courts Administration, Judge Moshe Gal, asked Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein to order that a criminal case be opened against Kamar, for remarks he made against judges in general and against Segal in particular.

Goldberg sent representatives Thursday to Segal's courtroom to observe the proceedings, and also requested meetings with lawyers representing the accused in the case; he also summoned Segal for clarification.

The 8,000 pages of court transcripts are replete with extraordinary exchanges between Segal and Kamar. On example is the following exchange, in November 2007, when Segal asked Kamar to question witnesses according to the rules.

"What you are doing takes nerve ... You are now digging yourself a hole," Segal called out to Kamar. Said Kamar: "His Honor will not threaten me ... His Honor is taking advantage of his greater power to frighten an attorney." When Segal made a remark about Kamar's reputation, Kamar responded: "And I have heard His Honor's name mentioned, from Be'er Sheva to here." Segal ended the exchange by saying, "Listen closely, sir: You have crossed a red line."

In January, Segal decided that in light of the impossible situation in the courtroom, when Kamar objects to a question put to a witness, he must state his objection before the witness even starts to respond to the question. The objection will be recorded in the minutes and the reasons for it will be presented in writing in time for the next court session, together with the responses of the other parties involved in the case. Segal said he would rule on the objections only at the end of the proceedings, when declaring the verdict, and threatened that if Kamar ignored this demand, he would be fined.

Kamar filed a complaint with Goldberg about Segal's "numerous insults," both verbal and in his written decisions, as well as what Kamar described as the judge's continued threats and slanderous remarks. Kamar also said Segal's comments disrupted his questioning of witnesses, and wrote that Segal "had decided to break me, professionally and personally."

Kamar has not appeared in recent court sessions, although his client is now being cross-examined. Last month Segal fined the attorney NIS 1,000 following an argument over an objection Kamar had made.

"Perhaps attorney Kamar thinks he is an exemplary figure," Segal wrote, explaining his decision regarding the objection, "a flagship in whose wake every true defense attorney should follow, a brave fighter, steeped in the highest values regarding the rights of the accused in criminal procedures ... But I do not think so. When considering his lack of respect for the judge, his deficiencies, his blindnesses and his weaknesses - [it appears] the judicial system is on the edge of an abyss."

With regard to Judge Gal's request to the attorney general, Kamar said his complaints about Segal, "and complaints that have been made for years from one end of the country to the other, speak for themselves, on various levels. I leave the conclusions to commissioner Goldberg."

Kamar added: "It is unfortunate that Gal decided to raise the banner of war against the right of attorneys to speak before having taken the trouble to examine the behavior of the judges themselves. It would be better for the justice system to correct its faults than to harm its critics."