Who Are They to Judge?

A glimpse into the convoluted ties of Supreme Court justices shows Danziger is prohibited from hearing 2,000 different kinds of cases and Grunis deleted his ex-partner from his list of affiliations.

Justice Yoram Danziger holds the Supreme Court record for the highest number of entities whose cases he is not allowed to hear, according to a ruling about a month ago by the judicial ombudsman.

In 2007, Danziger - then a successful private practice lawyer - was appointed to the Supreme Court. At the time he deposited with the court registrar a 49-page document listing some 2,000 past clients of his law firm, as well as lawyers and others with whom he had some affiliation while practicing law, so that he would not be assigned cases involving those parties.

But a ruling by the judicial ombudsman, retired Supreme Court Justice Eliezer Goldberg, reveals that this list was lost, and that only part of it was entered into the court's computer system. As a result, Danziger was assigned, among other cases, a case in which Bank Hapoalim was a party to an appeal - even though the bank was a client of the firm where Danziger once worked.

Recusal lists submitted by Supreme Court justices - which affect the assignment of justices to panels in cases that reach the Supreme Court - indicate family ties, friendships and attorney-client relationships. They also note relations between judges and lawyers, and work relationships that judges maintained before they were appointed to the bench. These lists offer a glimpse into the Supreme Court justices' convoluted system of affiliations.

Supreme Court President Asher Grunis

Today Supreme Court President Asher Grunis is not prevented from hearing any case. But an earlier list, made before he was appointed president, cited three types of cases that could not appear before him.

Among them were cases involving veteran lawyer Moshe Weinberg, in whose firm Grunis had previously been employed for eight years as a lawyer and later as a partner, before he was appointed a district court judge.

Also listed was Israel Discount Bank, where a relative of Grunis' held a senior management position, and where he himself once took out a mortgage.

Grunis was also once prevented from hearing any cases handled by his wife, Rina Meshel, a former Tel Aviv District Court judge who retired in 2007.

But on the current list, which is on file at the Supreme Court office, these three have been deleted. Grunis is therefore entitled to hear any case, including any involving his former partner, Weinberg. While Grunis apparently believes there is nothing preventing Weinberg from appearing before him, Weinberg thinks otherwise.

"It is unseemly," Weinberg told Haaretz this week. "It will work in this direction or in another direction; it won't remain neutral." Weinberg says he had not been aware of the issue until now. "I didn't know that I was on the list and I didn't know that I do not appear on the list. As long as it depends on me, I will not appear before Asher [Grunis]," he said.

The spokeswoman for the Supreme Court said in response: "The nature of a justice's ties to a party or a representative lawyer in a case is left to each justice's discretion, and there is no room to give out details on this subject. In any event, a recusal list reflects professional and personal ties, and if names were removed that appeared on earlier lists, this stems from the recusal having come to an end."

Justice Salim Joubran

Justice Salim Joubran placed Isaac Molho and David Shimron - the partners in the law firm Shimron, Molho, Persky and Co. - on his recusal list, as his son Asaad practices commercial law as an associate at the firm.

Others on the list of entities whose cases Joubran is prevented from hearing are Zaki Kamal, a lawyer who was considered close to former Supreme Court President Aharon Barak; and other close friends including attorney Jawad Boulous, who previously ran the late Palestinian politician Faisal Husseini's office at Orient House, and who represented Tanzim leader Marwan Barghouti and dozens of other Palestinian prisoners in Israeli courts.

Joubran's list also cites attorneys Ahmed Masalha and Yaniv Segev, the latter having clerked for Joubran, who become a friend of the family. Segev's clients include Dror Alperon, son of slain mob kingpin Ya'akov Alperon; and the Abergil crime family.

Justice Edna Arbel

Justice Edna Arbel requested that three lawyers not appear before her. The first is Yehezkel Beinisch, the husband of former Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch. Arbel and her husband Uri are close friends of the Beinisches; the friendship between the two women dates back to their days together at the State Prosecutor's Office.

Attorney Yosef Granot, who is considered a friend of the family, may not appear before Arbel. Attorney Yossi Mendelson is prohibited from appearing before both Arbel and Danziger. Mendelson, who declined to provide details of his connection to the two justices, is a prominent lawyer in the fields of family law and inheritance. In the past he represented Nava Barak in her divorce from Defense Minister Ehud Barak, businessman Oudi Recanati in his divorce, and former basketball coach Miki Dorsman in his divorce from billionaire Shari Arison.

Arbel is also prevented from deliberating on cases involving Discount Bank. The Supreme Court's spokeswoman refused to explain her affiliation with the bank.

Justice Yoram Danziger

The list of lawyers who may not appear before Danziger is unusually long. Danziger gave the Supreme Court office a list of 87 lawyers who may not appear before him. Some were his colleagues at the law firm where he worked in partnership with Dori Klagsbald. Others on the list advised him on criminal-law matters, some he came to know when he was planning to run for president of the Israel Bar Association, and some are personal friends.

Danziger consulted with at least two of the lawyers on his list regarding criminal suspicions against him having to do with his ties to Bat Yam Mayor Shlomo Lahiani, prominent attorney Ram Caspi and Rubi Bachar. Attorney Eyal Rosovsky is also prevented from appearing before Danziger. Rosovsky represented Danziger and Klagsbald in a suit against the Israel Lands Administration regarding land that Lahiani had purchased for Danziger, Klagsbald and S.A.N.L. Promoting and Development, a company in the Netanya region that he co-owns.

The list also cites his former partner Klagsbald; attorney Yossi Mendelson (who is also on Arbel's list, and who declined to state his connection to Danziger ); attorney Kenneth Mann, a friend of Danziger's who also represented Mayor Lahiani, who was suspected of crimes of impropriety in office. Mann represented Lahiani at the stage of his arrest and later in his petition to the Supreme Court.

Others on the list are former heads of the Bar Association, Dr. Shlomo Cohen and Yuri Guy-Ron, as well as its current president, Doron Barzilay; former Income Tax Commissioner Tali Yaron-Eldar; a former member of the judicial appointments committee, Pini Marinsky, and current member Rachel Ben Ari; as well as other lawyers.

Danziger recently added to his list David Mir and Makor Issues and Rights, Ltd. Haaretz reported this week that the judicial ombudsman recently found that there is merit to a complaint filed by Makor Issues & Rights, Ltd. against Danziger. Goldberg ruled that Danziger had "an ethical conflict of interests" when he presided over a judicial proceeding against the Israel Lands Administration regarding the Netanya land he shared with Lahiani, and at the same time heard an appeal brought by Makor Issues and Rights against the ILA. Mir filed a request for another hearing in the case, and requested that Danziger recuse himself from the case. Both requests were rejected.

In a remarkable departure, Danziger decided recently to refrain from being assigned cases pertaining to Mir and the company he owns.

According to the court spokeswoman, "Submitting a complaint to the judicial ombudsman does not in itself lead to the complainant's name being added to the list of recusals, but in keeping with the general principle, this matter too is left to the justices' discretion."

In addition, Danziger cannot hear cases involving some 2,000 of his former clients and other parties with whom he had ties before being appointed to the bench. Among his former clients are Bezeq, Union Bank, businessman Moshe Bublil, businessman Nissan Khakshouri, Club Hotel and the municipality of Bat Yam.

Justice Noam Solberg, who was appointed only recently to the Supreme Court, has not reported any recusals to the court office.

The recusal list on file does not include judges who have yet to be sworn in to the Supreme Court: Daphne Barak-Erez and Uri Shoham have not submitted recusal lists yet. The list also excludes Justice Eliezer Rivlin, who will be stepping down in May.