Legal Analysis / What a Turpitude Ruling Would Mean

If Hanegbi is found to have committed turpitude it's possible the High Court will intervene against his appointment.

The ruling in Tzachi Hanegbi's trial will address two distinct, yet related matters. One is the nature of the criminal ruling, namely a custodial or suspended sentence. It is hard to imagine the court will give the former minister a custodial sentence (that is, one involving incarceration ), given the State Prosecutor's Office's position that Hanegbi's offenses do not warrant such a penalty.

The second has to do with ethical questions, namely whether Hanegbi's conviction on perjury offenses constitutes moral turpitude. The answer to that question will have immediate legal ramifications.

A 2007 amendment to the Basic Law on the Knesset stipulated that if an MK is found to have committed turpitude, he or she must be immediately suspended from office. Still, legislation on the matter (created as it was in a patchwork manner ) holds that a turpitude ruling alone does not diminish the candidate's eligibility to become a Knesset member. Instead, that privilege will be denied only in cases in which a lawmaker is sentenced to a jail term three months or longer. In cases that don't include prison terms, a situation has been created where the legal implication is that turpitude has not been committed.

On whether Hanegbi is fit to be a public servant, we may consider the Basic Law on the Government. That legislation holds that only in instances of criminal convictions including prison terms may a ministerial candidate be denied the right to serve, and only if less than seven years has passed since the end of the sentence's completion. If the prison sentence is suspended, even a turpitude ruling cannot prevent a lawmaker's appointment to parliament.

Israeli criminal law specifies that the term "incarceration" generally refers not only to a custodial but also suspended sentence. Still, according to the Basic Law on the Government, only a custodial sentence can undermine a candidate's selection as minister.

Still, one must remember that the High Court has drawn a clear distinction between an "eligible" and a "reasonable" appointment. Unlike an MK, a cabinet minister needs to receive more than formal, legal authorization. For an individual to be selected as a minister, he or she must have a record reasonable enough to ensure the electorate's faith in its public servant.

That, for example, is the basis for the argument that an indictment against a minister on a serious offense is enough to obligate the prime minister to remove the minister from office or deny him or her an appointment.

The question over whether a post-conviction appointment is "reasonable" was considered in the December 2007 High Court ruling on a petition by the women's organization Emunah against the appointment of Haim Ramon as minister following the so-called kiss affair.

The court ruled not to weigh in on whether the appointment was reasonable, given the fact that the court that convicted Ramon found that given the circumstances, no turpitude was involved in his actions.

It's likely that today's decision on turpitude (unless an appeal is filed against it ) will be influential should a petition be filed in the future against Hanegbi the minister. If no turpitude ruling is issued, his path will be paved - from a legal standpoint - to be appointed a present or future cabinet minister, despite his perjury conviction. If he is found to have committed turpitude and then tapped as minister by the prime minister, it's possible the High Court will respond to a petition against the appointment by intervening against the appointment.