Probe Into Judge's Suicide Finds Administrative Failuresbut Refuses to Point Finger at Superiors for Reprimand

Maurice Benatar, who mentioned his case backlog in his suicide note, had 55 cases pending his decision, some of which had been waiting for a written verdict for nearly two years.

The investigation into the suicide of Maurice Benatar found there had been an administrative failure in how the judge's case backlog was allowed to accumulate unchecked, but that his superiors did nothing wrong in reprimanding him shortly before he killed himself.

Judge ombudsman Eliezer Goldberg, a retired Supreme Court justice, launched the investigation after Benatar's suicide in February. In his suicide note, Benatar mentioned two recent meetings with the Courts Administration head Moshe Gal and Jerusalem Magistrate's Court President Shulli Dotan. Both had addressed his backlog.

benatar - Courtesy Courts Administration - February 9 2011
Courtesy Courts Administration

Goldberg found Benatar was asked to disclose the full extent of his backlog only in May 2009, when Dotan became president of the court. At that point Benatar had 40 cases, some of which had been waiting for a written verdict for nearly two years. That later grew to 55 cases.

"The actual scope of the deceased's delays was revealed very late, after he had accumulated a vast number of verdicts waiting to be written," Goldberg wrote. "In these circumstances, however hard he tried, he was no longer able to control the cases piling up at his door."

Goldberg said that at the time, the court system lacked a mechanism to track and manage judges' backlog in real time. He noted, however, that Gal and Dotan had treated Benatar appropriately.

He said Dotan's decision to transfer Benatar to the administrative affairs court, which has less of a workload, stemmed from her assumption that this would give him more free time to write verdicts.

As for the meeting between Benatar, Gal and Dotan, in which the latter two gave Benatar the options of retiring or facing an investigation by Goldberg, Goldberg wrote that several other judges had been given the same offer over the past two years, and that it was by no means unusual. He said that while these steps were meaningful, they stemmed from the court system's obligation to ensure each judge fulfills his commitment to the parties he adjudicates.

Senior professional adviser to the courts administration, Barak Lazer, told Haaretz that the courts' new computerized system enables transparency and automatically issues alerts about potential delays.