Israel's Justice Minister Seeks to Oust Family Court Judge Over Foot-dragging

A majority of at least seven of the nine members of the committee, which Neeman heads, is required to dismiss a judge.

In a rare move, Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman is expected to ask the Judicial Appointments Committee to dismiss Family Court Judge Ariel Ben-Ari due to delays in the latter's delivery of verdicts and other aspects of his judicial conduct.

A majority of at least seven of the nine members of the committee, which Neeman heads, is required to dismiss a judge. Before the vote, Ben-Ari will be summoned to appear before the committee and will be given the opportunity to study the material against him.

Ariel Ben-Ari - Courts website - 05032012
Courts website

Ben-Ami has engaged attorney Avigdor Feldman to represent him in his hearing.

The dramatic decision, which Haaretz reported in August was under consideration, came following several months of consultations between Neeman and the Courts Administration. Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein was also asked to weigh in on the matter.

The main complaints against Ben-Ari, who presides over the Ramat Gan Family Court involve his tardiness in delivering verdicts as well as his conduct in the sensitive position of judge in the country's largest family court. A senior judicial official said recently that all those involved in the decision had concluded that there was no choice but to begin the dismissal proceeding, since Ben-Ami had refused to retire voluntarily despite the complaints against him.

Ben-Ari told Haaretz Sunday that he could not explain why his dismissal was being sought. "I really don't know what it's about," he said. "Is it about spying? Let them say, 'Because you stole horses from the king's stables;' but I don't know how to ride. I'm in shock. They did not share this with me."

Ben-Ari also said the relevant officials had not responded to his attorney's efforts to contact them. He confirmed he had been asked to resign but said he saw no reason why he should.

Neeman received an updated report on Thursday about complaints against Ben-Ari over the years that were found justified by the former judiciary ombudsman and former Supreme Court Justice Tova Strasberg-Cohen and by the current ombudsman, former Supreme Court Justice Eliezer Goldberg. Ben-Ari had been threatened in the past by fathers who had been harmed by his verdicts, which are considered controversial and have been criticized by fathers' rights groups and family attorneys. Among the complaints against Ben-Ari that were found justified were those that said his foot-dragging caused them financial damage.

Another complaint found justified was that Ben-Ari spoke by phone to witnesses before their testimony. At first Ben-Ari, denied the allegation, but later admitted to Strasberg-Cohen that he had talked to an expert due to testify in his court, and also with a regional welfare official about visitation arrangements before she testified in his courtroom. In another complaint Goldberg found justified, the complainant said the judge had shouted at him, scolded him and treated him with prejudice.

The complainant's attorney said to Ben-Ari at the hearing, "Sir, why don't you kill him and finish the trial?"

Ben-Ari replied: "I still can't kill him; but pay heed, I can certainly write a verdict."