Dori Klagsbald, Roadkill of the System?

Dori Klagsbald is not a bad man. Dori Klagsbald is not a criminal. Dori Klagsbald is a man who made a mistake when driving, a mistake that cost the life of a mother and son. In that, Dori Klagsbald is no different from the hundreds of Israelis who kill 500 to 600 other people on the roads each year.

Nor is Dori Klagsbald different from the hundreds of thousands of Israeli drivers who make countless mistakes while driving, and barely escape situations like the one he faced. Dori Klagsbald is a very normative Israeli. He is very much like us all, and we are all very much like him, when it comes to insane driving habits.

But Klagsbald, being one of Israel's leading and most famous lawyers, found his trial covered by every media outlet in town. The coverage made Klagsbald an involuntary symbol, a symbol who was sentenced to 15 months' prison over that tragic traffic accident.

Because the sentence handed down by judge Issac Garty was unusually severe, questions were raised as to whether he hadn't cracked down too hard, a sort of reversal of "every man is equal in the eyes of the law". Did Klagsbald pay a price for becoming a symbol? Was he punished more harshly than other driver have been in the case of fatal accidents?

Garty's statistics, as collected by TheMarker reported Anat Roeh, indicate that he was.

Out of 11 rulings on similar cases in the last three years, the defendants were sentenced to prison terms in only two cases, and then to 9 months. In all other cases Garty settled for 6 months' community service.

He settled for that even when the circumstances were far more unsettling. For instance, David Kuperbashvili, who ran down a woman on the pavement and killed her, and then abandoned her to die and fled the scene, received six months' community service.

Going by that statistic, Klagsbald's claim that the media sentenced him and dragged the court in its wake seems to be true. Garty, the vice president of the Tel Aviv traffic court, does say in all his rulings that the "proliferation of fatal road accidents requires the courts hearing the cases to contribute its share to the war against them, and to crack down in punishing negligent drivers who cause loss of life". But in practice, he only cracked down in the glare of the media spotlight.

One can sympathize with the frustration that Klagsbald and his lawyers feel, that he's apparently been treated worse because of his lofty status. But one has to wonder whether the problem lies with the punishment handed down to him, or with the judge's prior record, and that of the other traffic court judges. One has to wonder whether a country suffering from a plague of accidents, which has a stated goal of reducing them, should settle for community service in the case of road deaths.

The one vs the many

Klagsbald's sentence was announced last week roughly at the same time that Enron's leader Jeff Skilling was sentenced, for financial fraud. Skilling's sentence was also influenced by the media coverage of the Enron affair and the trial of the officers. But Skilling got 24 years.

There is no mercy in the U.S., it would seem: when the U.S. wants to send a message and stamp out a disease, in this case book-cooking on Wall Street, it does not pussyfoot.

The sentences handed down in the Enron case are more severe than sentences given to drug-dealers and murderers. But that matters not one whit to the American court: the principle of deterrence overrides the rights of the individual.

In the Israeli view, the Enron sentences are perverse. Given the crimes of which the Israeli hi-tech executive Kobi Alexander is suspected, and the possibility that he'll receive "symbol" status in the American courts, the feeling that apposite justice is not being done in America is all the more acute. The individual is sacrificed on the altar of the greater good without an eyeblink.

But between the 24 years that Skilling will sit in jail for stealing, and the six months' community service for a hit and run fatality, there is a vast gap.

If the Americans are willing to sacrifice the one for the sake of the message to the many, in Israel the one receives far too much protection from the court and the many are left forsaken and forlorn.