A court order issued at police request against a fictitious website created by the police to aid an investigation “didn’t reflect reality,” State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan admitted recently.
He was responding to a complaint by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel over false information contained in the police request, which was submitted as part of the police’s investigation of blogger Lori Shem-Tov.
The police request included an affidavit saying there was a concrete risk that crimes would be committed on the fictitious website. But the site was set up by the police themselves and wasn’t engaged in any criminal activity.
The writ was issued by Judge Ronit Poznanski-Katz in late 2015. It ordered WordPress, a California-based platform for building websites and blogs, to give the police information about the fictitious site, which was hosted on Wordpress.
Police created the site because they wanted to find out how WordPress would handle a writ against a site it hosted, and specifically whether it would inform the site’s owner, before they asked it about Shem-Tov.
Shem-Tov has since been charged with writing insulting posts against judges and other civil servants. She has been held without bail for over two years, and prosecutors are seeking a 12-year sentence.
The police didn’t deceive Poznanski-Katz; they told her the site was fictitious. But she agreed to cooperate with the trick, and duly signed the English-language writ the police had drafted and submitted to her.
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Consequently, Shem-Tov filed a complaint against the judge last October. By that time, Poznanski-Katz had already been fired over an unrelated issue and had asked the High Court of Justice to reinstate her, so Shem-Tov asked the High Court to consider her complaint as part of its deliberations.
The court declined to do so. But ACRI took her complaint seriously, and asked both Nitzan and Supreme Court President Esther Hayut to find out whether the behavior of both the police and the judge in this case were exceptions or the rule.
If the facts of Shem-Tov’s complaint are correct, “This seriously taints the legal process and turns the court into a full partner in an investigative ruse,” wrote ACRI’s chief legal counsel, Dan Yakir.
In his reply, Nitzan admitted that Poznanski-Katz had the true facts before her when she issued the court order, and that “one clause in the court order itself, whose draft was prepared by the police, indeed didn’t reflect reality.” He also said the prosecution had learned of the request and the court order only after the fact.
Nitzan said he has brought the incident to the attention of senior police officers and warned them to be careful in the future that requests for court orders “do reflect reality.”
Nevertheless, he didn’t say there was anything wrong with requesting a court order against a fictitious website in principle, merely that such requests must be accurate.
Yakir’s letter to Hayut was answered by the Courts Administration’s legal adviser back in February. But that letter said merely that since the issue of Poznanski-Katz’s behavior might come up in Shem-Tov’s trial, he could not comment on it now.