Judge Who Coordinated With Investigator Dismissed From Position

Judge Ronit Poznanski-Katz was convicted of ethical violations over correspondence in hearings in Bezeq bribery case

Judge Ronit Poznanski-Katz. June 18, 2016.
Olivier Fitoussi

The disciplinary tribunal for judges decided unanimously Wednesday to remove Judge Ronit Poznanski-Katz from her post, following her conviction for texting with an Israel Securities Authority investigator about the custody extensions of suspects.

The prosecutor acting on behalf of Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked had asked for Poznanski-Katz to be suspended for a year, but the tribunal, head by former Supreme Court President Asher Grunis, decided to end her tenure.

Poznanski-Katz, who had corresponded with Eran Shaham-Shavit regarding the extension of the detentions of suspects in the Bezeq brivery investigation, had been convicted by the tribunal of conduct unbecoming a judge and violating the judges’ code of ethics. Since the text messages were revealed in February, Poznanski-Katz has been suspended from her post at the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court. She took full responsibility for her actions, saying her failure stemmed from her lengthy acquaintance with Shaham-Shavit.

Grunis wrote that even if Poznanski-Katz had been led on by Shaham-Shavit, who had initiated the correspondence by text message between them, she should have put a stop to it. “In the eyes of an outside observer, there is no doubt that the public’s confidence in the integrity of the procedure conducted by the judge has been violated,” Grunis wrote. “Her conduct has deviated significantly from what is expected and required of a person who serves as a judge.”

The tribunal can dismiss judges, transfer them to another court or reprimand them. The sentence that Shaked sought, through attorney Shaul Gordon, is not mentioned as an option. Gordon explained the minister’s request by saying she was convinced that Poznanski-Katz was “professional and respected” and that this was her first disciplinary failure. Shaked opposed merely giving Poznanski-Katz a reprimand.

The court, which, along with Grunis, comprised Supreme Court Justice Neal Hendel and Nazareth District Court Deputy President Ester Hellman-Nussboim, stated that it could not mete out a sentence not specified in the law, even though all the parties agreed that would have been the most suitable punishment under the circumstances.

Grunis said that at first glance, a dismissal seems too severe, especially in comparison to the case of Hila Cohen, who was convicted of falsifying protocols and was transferred to another court. However, he said, the texting had not been a one-time or technical correspondence.

“The content and tone of the messages that were been exchanged between the two intensify the gravity of the matter,” Grunis wrote, “We consider it important to set a high standard for proper behavior by judges. The message meant to emerge from the disciplinary court to all Israeli judges is that discipline violations will be met with a severe response, perhaps even too severe.”

As for the claim that texting between attorneys, judges and judges is common, the court wrote, “We have never encountered this phenomenon or even a fragment of this phenomenon. We must state loudly and clearly that judges in Israel must not conduct themselves in the manner of this judge.”

Grunis added, “There is no doubt that termination is a very severe sanction. But we have no choice but to implement it given the judge’s actions and failures.”

By Poznanski-Katz’s own admission, she and Shaham-Shavit corresponded about the detention extensions, correspondence that should not taken place between a prosecutor and the presiding judge. Shaham Shavit was reprimanded, his salary was cut and he was removed from his post for several months as part of a plea agreement with the Civil Service.

Following the incident, the court administration ruled that judges may not maintain direct contact with investigative and prosecution officials in arrest proceedings or requests for court orders and may not discuss cases in their offices.