Court Rejects Katsav Appeal to Disqualify Rape Trial Judges

Motion submitted by defense team after court allowed women to testify despite statute of limitations passing.

Tel Aviv District Court judges denied a motion to disqualify themselves on Sunday by the attorney to former president Moshe Katsav, on trial for rape and sexual assault charges.

The appeal was submitted by Katsav's defense team after a petition to ban three women from testifying against the former president, despite the fact that the statute of limitations on his alleged offenses against them has passed.

Katsav's team had argued that the decision to allow the women's testimonies disqualifies the entire process, including the judges themselves, as those testimonies could damage the court's impartiality.

In their ruling, judges George Kara, Miriam Sokolov, and Yehudit Shevach wrote that the court permits the disqualification of a judge where evidence supports a substantial fear of bias.

Those cases, the judges wrote, "do not deal with subjective concerns, or in appearances of justice, but in a significant concern of an objective incompetence."

The judges added that Katsav's team cannot attack a ruling made during the trial with claims of impartiality, such as their ruling to approve the testimony of cases which transgress the stature of limitations.

"The way to argue the admissibleness of a piece of evidence is by submitting an appeal, and not through an attempt to disqualify," the judges wrote in their ruling.

The judges indicated that Katsav's attorney, Avigdor Feldman, "disclosed that he did not have any 'real' intentions of disqualifying the presiding judges, but only to bring the decision to allow the testimony to the review of the Supreme Court."

"Having done so, we are to treat this as an appeal disguised as an appeal to disqualify," the judges added.

Defense attorneys Feldman, Zion Amir, and Avraham Lavi offered to suspend their motion to disqualify if the prosecution agreed to let the new testimony heard after that of the prosecution's main witness, A. of the Tourism Ministry, in connection to whom Katsav is charged with two counts of rape.

The judges ruled, however, that "since it was only a case of postponement, we did not see that offer as a potential solution."

The District Court rejected on Thursday a petition by Katsav's lawyers to ban the women from testifying against the former president, who faces charges of rape, indecent assault and sexual harassment of three female employees, first as tourism minister and then as president.

Prosecutor Ronit Amiel had told the court that Katsav waged a "campaign of intimidation and fear" against the women, and against potential witnesses in the trial.