Sick Israeli Debtor Gets House Call From Judge

Rachel Sayag-Sofer, who has been ordered to pay NIS 250,000 in debts or face prison time, said she was too sick to make it to her court hearing, so a Tel Aviv District Court judge, refusing to let her slide, brought the case to her.

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A woman embroiled in a high-profile case over business debts got a surprise house call on Sunday after she claimed she was too sick to come to court: the judge, who arrived at her home in Herzliya and carried out court proceedings in her living room.

Tel Aviv District Court Judge Varda Alshech arrived at the home of Rachel Sayag-Sofer along with a delegation of lawyers and a court stenographer.

Sayag-Sofer at one time had a seed business with clients all over the world but since 2003 has faced huge and complicated legal problems. Altogether she was sued for debt totaling a stunning NIS 420 billion - more than Israel's national budget, just to put things into proportion. (The debt mushroomed thanks to compound interest of 20 percent a month.)

She was declared bankrupt in 2011 and was ordered to pay NIS 15,000 per month to the court, but she failed to meet the payment schedule.

Last month, Alshech issued an order that Sayag-Sofer be jailed for 60 days if she didn't make a NIS 250,000 payment to the court, but the court order was challenged based on the argument that the defendant had not been present at the hearing due to ill health.

Alshech questioned the reliability of the medical documentation that Sayag-Sofer's lawyer submitted to the court at the time, but the Supreme Court ruled that Alshech's decision was invalid in Sayag-Sofer's absence and ordered the matter reheard.

When the delegation arrived at Sayag-Sofer's home, she asked that they come up to the second floor, but the judge insisted that the defendant come downstairs instead. She was able to do so, walking "at a normal pace," according to minutes the judge dictated into the court record.

Sayag-Sofer had been surprised by the arrival of the court delegation Sunday and initially refused to proceed on the grounds that her lawyer was not present, according to the court record. Alshech rejected the request to wait before starting the hearing, countering that Sayag-Sofer had represented herself in some prior proceedings and had told the court she had a law degree.

Despite the defendant's claim that her health confined her to her home, the trustee in bankruptcy produced a video shot by a private investigator showing her running in a park. Sayag-Sofer's lawyer, who ultimately arrived at the house for the hearing, said the video was not shot on a date on which his client failed to appear in court and therefore was not in conflict with assertions she had made about her health. The lawyer, Oren Ben, complained that the proceedings began before he arrived at his client's house even though Sayag-Sofer had asked the judge to wait until he arrived. Ben also claimed the judge's court minutes did not fully reflect what transpired at the house.

In the living room proceedings, Alshech ruled that Sayag-Sofer must pay the NIS 250,000 or go to prison.

Judge Varda Alshech in her natural surroundings, the courthouse.Credit: Moti Kimche
Rachel Sayag-Sofer in an investigator’s video. Credit: Adi Aviani

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