Sex for Judgeship: Arrests in Scandal Rocking Israel's Justice System

Attorney general recuses himself from case given friendship with main suspect, who police want to keep in custody for three more days ■ Justice minister, top justice to testify

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Judicial Appointments Committee, 2018
Judicial Appointments Committee, 2018Credit: Emil Salman

>> UPDATE: Israel's most powerful lawyer named as main suspect in scandal

An Israeli lawyer was arrested on Wednesday on suspicion of promoting judges in exchange for sexual benefits, the latest development in a scandal that has reached all the way to the Justice Ministry, Supreme Court and attorney general.

According to Israel Police, the lawyer, a senior figure in Israel's justice system, acted to appoint a female judge to a magistrate court, as well as another judge to the district court. Police suspect he had sexual relations with the judge in exchange for her promotion as well as with the wife of another judge in exchange for his advancement. Police asked the Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court to remand the suspect for three days.

Supreme Court President Esther Hayut and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked in the President's Residence, Jerusalem, December 2018. Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

The judge's wife, also a lawyer, is being investigated under suspicion of using her personal connections with the suspect to promote her husband's candidacy. In her investigation, she vigorously denied the suspicions.

The main facts known thus far:

  • A senior lawyer has been arrested under suspicion of acting to promote two judges.
  • According to the suspicion, the senior figure had sexual relations with the female judge and the wife of the male judge in exchange for their promotion.
  • The promotion of the female judge was successful. The promotion of the male judge did not pan out.
  • All members of the Judicial Appointments Committee will be called in for questioning.
  • Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit has disqualified himself from dealing with the case given his friendship with the main suspect.

Police raided the offices of the Israel Bar Association as part of the investigation, as well as the suspect's home.

Israel police said the probe was launched two weeks ago following the discovery of new information.

Several other figures involved are being questioned by police. The case has been placed under a gag order until February 15.

As part of the investigation, police found incriminating correspondences between the senior figure and the two women at the heart of the investigation.

The female judge was appointed in 2016 to a court in central Israel and was previously a police officer. The female lawyer is active in the Bar Association and close to the main suspect. Her husband, who serves as a magistrate's court judge in central Israel, will be summoned for investigation.

Police is expected to summon all members of the Judicial Appointments Committee for investigation. This includes Supreme Court president Esther Hayut and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, who is considered a friend of the suspect.

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit has disqualified himself from dealing with the case given his friendship with the main suspect. Shaked said it was a turbulent day for her "as a Justice Minister and as a woman."

In a statement, Supreme Court president Esther Hayut and Shaked said that there has been a rumor mill around the case and that they "feel confident that the law enforcement system will complete the investigation and reach the truth."

They added that Shaked, as the chair of the Judicial Appointments Committee, has overseen the appointment of 334 judges and senior registrars through a meticulous and professional selection process.

On the committee, alongside the minister, are two members of Knesset, the Justice Minister, three Supreme Court justices – including its president – and two representatives of the Israel Bar Association. All members will be called in by the police for investigation.

Haaretz submitted this week a request to remove the gag order but a decision has yet to be made. On Tuesday, the Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court rejected a request by financial paper Globes to remove the gag order "due to the sensitivity of the investigation."

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