A former president of Nazareth District Court was convicted on Monday of sexual harassment. A plea bargain under which retired Judge Yitzhak Cohen would have confessed and been sentenced, but without a conviction that would give him a criminal record, was rejected by the court.
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The Rishon Letzion Magistrate’s Court said the former judge’s behavior didn’t justify exempting him from conviction. However, it accepted the rest of the plea bargain, sentencing him to 250 hours of community service and ordering him to pay 2,500 shekels ($690) in compensation to his victim, a former employee.
Cohen said he sought to avoid conviction because it would bar him from working as a lawyer or engaging in volunteer educational activity.
But Judge Einat Ron, president of the magistrate’s court, rejected his request. Cohen’s behavior, she wrote, “wasn’t at the upper extreme of sexual offenses, but neither can we make light of it, as the prosecution did in its arguments,” given the “significant gap” between Cohen and his victim in terms of both their jobs and their age.
Cohen, she continued, “cynically exploited his senior position against a young employee who was formally under his authority.” This constituted “a gross violation of trust” against the employee, the court system as a whole and the public.
The harassment occurred in September 2010 while Cohen was deputy president of the Nazareth court. Another judge had asked the victim to give Cohen a document. When she entered his office to do so, he sat her on his knee and put his hand under her blouse to touch her back. Embarrassed, told him she was about to be married, then stood up. Cohen promptly stood up as well and hugged her.
The rejected plea bargain was approved by Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit and State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan.
Cohen spent seven years as deputy president of the Nazareth District Court, from 2006 to 2013. In January 2013 he was appointed court president and later he was nominated (though not appointed) to the Supreme Court. But in November 2014, he resigned from the judiciary due to the criminal allegations against him.
Many jurists criticized the prosecution’s handling of the case from the start. They said senior prosecutors – including former State Prosecutor Moshe Lador – had information about Cohen’s sexual misconduct as early as 2012, but didn’t ask police to conduct even a preliminary inquiry, much less a full-fledged criminal investigation.