Law for the Protection of Screamers

It is impossible to continue looking upon the judicial system as if it were an impenetrable bubble immune to the test of time.

Yossi Verter reported in Friday's edition of Haaretz that Ehud Olmert would like to share with the public his version of the nature of his relationship with Morris Talansky, before the anticipated cross-examination of the New York fundraiser. Yet the justice minister inquired and discovered that the prime minister's room to maneuver is quite limited. Olmert has shelved the idea, at least for now.

Conversely, it was revealed this past weekend that Talansky has procured the services of a renowned public relations firm in the run-up to his testimony next month. Both the suspect and the witness look to airbrush their image - and in the process bring influence to bear on the judges - by means of media advisers. Perhaps it is not so aesthetic, nor does it sit well with the rules of sub judice. It certainly contradicts a full set of principles and concepts that have guided the Fourth Estate and the judicial system for generations, but these are currently the rules of the game and there is no alternative but to become accustomed to them.

Nowadays, the flow of information is pumped through the veins of the public domain. Governments resolve to make war based almost entirely on the media implications that such an endeavor would entail. The economy is managed within the confines determined by the rapid transfer of data from one end of the globe to the other. International relations, much like local politics, are shaped first and foremost by the trend of influencing public opinion via the media. The weekend newspapers proved that even the families of kidnapped soldiers turn to media advisers to get their message across to the government.

Under these circumstances, it is impossible to continue looking upon the judicial system as if it were an impenetrable bubble immune to the test of time. The judiciary branch is also vulnerable to the influence of the news media, and is unable to maintain the perfect isolation to which it is accustomed. Judges' complaints over the media coverage of high-profile cases - such as the Haim Ramon sexual harassment case, the Moshe Katsav affair and the Avigdor Klagsbald case - during the litigation process are well-grounded in principle, yet disconnected from reality. Reportage of the cases is not external to the proceedings but rather part of them, even on the legal plain. The judges receive the cases on which lie the fingerprints of people with certain interests at stake.

It is against this backdrop that we ought to reexamine the latest attempts by Katsav's attorneys to cast aspersions on the motives of the judges presiding over the case. Last week, the attorneys appealed to the judiciary ombudsman, Tova Strasberg-Cohen, to investigate the personal notes scribbled by the leading judge in the case, Shulamit Dotan, before the plea- bargain hearing between Katsav and the state. The attorneys argue that the judge's notes - whether written by her or one of her assistants - attest to a prejudice fueled in a large part by the way Katsav has been portrayed in the press, the same press that is guilty of placing the former president under a "field trial" and carrying out a "lynching."

The attorneys' appeal comes on the heels of similar statements, in which they argued that Katsav deserves a "defense from justice" stipulation that would exempt him from facing charges. The attorneys base their claim on the argument that the odds of him receiving a fair trial from a judge who has been oblivious to the guilty verdict rendered by the press in the court of public opinion are nil.

Indeed, the judges who have been tapped to hear the Katsav case are, thanks to the news media, familiar with the accusations against him and the relevant testimony of the parties involved. Knowledge before the actual trial does not, in itself, constitute prejudice. Katsav will not be tried before a jury, but before a panel of professional judges who are practiced at weighing the evidence presented before them in court. This is not at all meant as a statement of self-righteousness, but rather a sober acceptance of reality, and it would behoove the defendant's attorneys to acknowledge it as such. Even they have been exposed to the media stories about their client, yet they still manage to defend him.

Without disregarding the unfortunate behavior of some journalists who cover investigations against public figures, it is worth remembering that Katsav himself, along with his associates, used the press to put out their version of the story to the public - all the while sullying the credibility of the young women who filed complaints against him - before pleading his case in court. If Katsav's appeal is accepted and he is ruled to be entitled to a "defense from justice" exemption, it will be impossible to try a public figure in court. As the suspicions against them become more serious, the media can be expected to expand its coverage. This dynamic will lead to a situation where Katsav - and other well-known defendants - will be exempt from the arms of justice. And that is how we will purify our ranks.