Justice Minister Wants Next Top Public Defender to Be Manager

Expected prerequisite may disqualify private sector candidates.

The next head of the Public Defender's Office will have to demonstrate significant management skills, along with extensive experience as a defense attorney, Justice Ministry sources said yesterday.

After the Shavuot holiday, the search committee will publish ads soliciting applications to replace national public defender Inbal Rubinstein, who is leaving after eight years in the position. The committee will also approach attorneys it believes are worthy candidates.

Inbal Rubinstein - Tomer Appelbaum
Archive: Tomer Appelbaum

The committee yesterday publicly asked Rubinstein to stay on a few more months, until her successor is chosen and undergoes a period of overlap.

The decision to include management experience as a prerequisite for the post reflects the fact that the Public Defender's Office, founded in 1996 by Prof. Kenneth Mann, has become an NIS 180 million operation employing over 900 lawyers; 100 of whom are directly employed by the office, and 800 private attorneys who represent the Public Defender's Office in some 90,000 legal proceedings of various types.

Justice Ministry sources note that the management requirement may prove an obstacle to defense lawyers in private practice who want to apply for the job. They will be at a disadvantage compared to a district public defender, who supervises a team of dozens of attorneys, for example.

Over the years, the criteria under which one could qualify for representation by a public defender have been expanded beyond a financial means test. Public defenders are regularly involved in certain legal proceedings regardless of the defendant's ability to pay. These include almost all files involving juveniles, cases where the state is requesting a prison sentence if the defendant is convicted and certain hearings held by the prosecution before an indictment is issued.

Over the past few months, several names have been bandied about as possible candidates to succeed Rubinstein.

The presumed frontrunner is Yoav Sapir, the deputy national public defender and director of the office's cases department that it operates in the Supreme Court. He is known to be Rubinstein's preferred candidate.

Two other leading candidates, both women, are also top officials in the Public Defender's Office. One is Yona Hayer, the chief public defender of the Tel Aviv and Central District, who oversees over half of the country's public defender's files. She is known to have close ties to AG Yehuda Weinstein from his days as a private sector defense attorney.

The other candidate is Dalia Halak, the chief public defender in the southern district, who has spent 12 years in that post. She is considered a dominant force in the legal system in the south.