In a Bid to Settle a Case, Israeli Judge Reaches Out to Investigators, Violating Protocol

Courts Administration says that 'Given that the Judge is now on pre-retirement leave there was deemed no need to pursue the issue'

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File photo: Judge Shimon Stein, 2011.
File photo: Judge Shimon Stein, 2011. Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

An Israeli judge improperly contacted the deputy head of the Justice Ministry’s department for investigating police officers in an effort to settle a case he was hearing before it entered the evidentiary phase.

Judge Shimon Stein, deputy president of the Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court, said during a hearing that took place last week that he had summoned Moshe Sa’ada, deputy head of the Justice Ministry department, adding that the two of them knew each other. Sa’ada came to the courthouse and spoke with the defense lawyers, but they didn’t come to an agreement and the hearings in the case are expected to continue.

Judges are forbidden to make contact with representatives of the prosecution outside the courtroom. In the “Regulations governing the work interface between judges, prosecutors and investigators,” it states, “Contacts between the judge, the investigators and prosecutors will take place only during a hearing over which he presides and the judge will avoid all other direct or informal contact with them.”

Supreme Court President Esther Hayut reiterated the importance of this two years ago, following the exposure of correspondence between Judge Ronit Poznansky-Katz and a Securities Authority investigator during a probe relating to the Bezeq corruption case (Case 4000) for which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was later indicted.

The case involves three policemen accused of beating a detainee and of obstructing the investigation into the incident. Since the trial began in 2017, Stein has been trying to get the prosecutors and the defense attorneys to settle the case. The efforts failed, and last week the presentation of evidence was to begin. During a hearing on Wednesday, Stein told both parties to once again try to negotiate an agreement, and when they came back to the courtroom, he announced that he had spoke with Sa’ada and that the latter had agreed to come to the courthouse for the negotiations.

Stein told Haaretz that he hadn’t initiated the call, but suggested to one of the prosecutors that she call Sa’ada, and that it was she who gave him the phone to talk to Sa’ada about coming to court. “When the deputy head of Mahash didn’t come to the hearing, the evidentiary hearing continued as planned.”

The judge added that he had met Sa’ada during a hearing in the Beit Shemesh Magistrate’s Court 15 years ago, but aside from that had no relationship between them.

The Courts Administration said: “The telephone call was inconsistent with the regulations. Given that Judge Stein is now on pre-retirement leave (this is the last case he is handling) there was deemed no need to pursue the issue.” The prosecution said Sa’ada “happened to be near the courthouse” and agreed to the request to come to the hearing in an effort to advance the dialogue between the parties.