Jerusalem Judge Jailing Defendants for Minor Traffic Offenses

Judge ordered detention of defendants facing minor traffic offenses, without the prosecution having requested it, on at least 3 occasions.

Last week, Majid Rajbi reported to the courtroom of Jerusalem Traffic Court Judge Abraham Tennenbaum to face charges of driving with a license that had expired more than six months ago. But instead of returning home after the session, Rajbi, a father of six from Atarot, in East Jerusalem, found himself behind bars. The judge ordered him to remain in jail until he was able to post a NIS 2,000 bond - despite the fact that, as usual for such cases, the police had not requested Rajbi's detention.

"I went to court to finish with my case and suddenly the judge said, 'You're under arrest,' Rajbi related afterward. "I called my wife, who said, 'Where am I going to get NIS 2,000?' I have a son with a heart problem who has to go to Schneider Children's Hospital [in Tel Aviv] every 10 days, I'm not working and I have no money."

Rajbi appealed his remand through attorney Rashad Zoubi of the Jerusalem Public Defender's Office. District Court Judge Moshe Drori ordered Rajbi's immediate release and harshly criticized Tennenbaum, while noting that this was not the first such instance.

"On several occasions, judges in this court have overturned arrest warrants initiated by [Tennenbaum] without the prosecution's request," Drori wrote, adding that he hoped his ruling would stop Tennenbaum from issuings arrest warrants in similar cases in the future.

During his 13 years on the bench of Jerusalem's Traffic Court, Tennenbaum has ordered the detention of defendants facing similar charges, without the prosecution having requested it, on at least three occasions. Each time, his decisions have been overturned on appeal.

In January 2007, Tennenbaum sent Eli Almaliah, a father of eight with chronic health issues who was charged with driving with an expired driver's license, to jail after demanding that he post bail of NIS 1,000. The district court overturned the arrest.

In January 2009, the scenario was repeated with defendant Hussein Suwan, and the judge who overturned Tennenbaum's decision criticized it severely. Two months later, the same thing happened again, with a different defendant and a different district court judge, but with similar criticism of Tennenbaum.

"There is cause for concern regarding these improper judicial decisions that lead to arbitrary and unnecessary detentions," Zoubi said yesterday.

A spokesman for the courts said in response that "the judges' rulings speak for themselves."