Judges Reject Former President Katsav's Request They Step Down

The judges in former president Moshe Katsav's sex-crimes trial yesterday rejected his request that they recuse themselves.

Katsav demanded that Tel Aviv District Court Judges George Karra, Miriam Sokolov and Judith Shevach recuse themselves after they agreed last week to hear testimony from four of the five complainants whose complaints were not included in the indictment because the statute of limitations had elapsed. Katsav's attorneys argued that these women's evidence ought to be inadmissible, as it could prejudice the judges against their client, and by deciding to admit it nevertheless, the judges had disqualified themselves from continuing to hear the case.

In its ruling, the panel wrote that the law disqualifies a judge from hearing a case only if there is "objective" reason to fear he will be prejudiced. That does not exist in this case, it said, as the women's testimony is clearly needed to prove, or disprove, the prosecution's claim that Katsav was a serial sex offender who demonstrated a systematic pattern of behavior.

Moreover, the judges said, if Katsav believes the four complainants' testimony is inadmissible, then the proper way to raise this claim is in his appeal of the final verdict, not by demanding that the judges recuse themselves.

Finally, they noted, defense attorney Avigdor Feldman openly admitted that his goal was not to disqualify the panel, but to provide an opening for the Supreme Court to review the decision to allow the women's testimony. That clearly indicates that this is not a legitimate recusal request, but rather an attempt to appeal a procedural decision on the admissibility of evidence in the guise of a recusal request.

The judges also refused Katsav's request to postpone the trial until the Supreme Court hears his appeal of yesterday's ruling.