The Right Person

The choosing of a new attorney general has been marked by the selection committee's inability to reach a consensus of four out of five members regarding a "qualified, suitable and appropriate" candidate, as the cabinet decision required.

The choosing of a new attorney general has been marked by the selection committee's inability to reach a consensus of four out of five members regarding a "qualified, suitable and appropriate" candidate, as the cabinet decision required. Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman acted appropriately when he recommended that the cabinet appoint Yehuda Weinstein, whom the search committee noted was someone who, along with three other candidates, had the support of three committee members. Neeman made it clear that his recommendation was based on an examination of the candidates' records and their legal-professional experience.

In various settings, including this newspaper, it has been argued that the best candidate for the job is someone with expertise in administrative and public law. So Weinstein, whose main professional experience has been in criminal law and who is a leading defense lawyer who has represented high-ranking public figures, must not be suitable.

This approach appears to me to be mistaken and baseless. As long as the position of attorney general is not divided into two posts, one civil and one criminal, it is a multidisciplinary position whose incumbent wears four hats: the head of the state prosecution; the state's representative in court, most importantly the High Court of Justice; the legal adviser to the cabinet and its individual ministers; and the public's representative with the authority to intervene in legal proceedings of public importance even if the parties to the case are private citizens. When Aharon Barak was asked when he was attorney general who his client really was, he replied "the whole Israeli people."

The Shamgar Commission, which in 1998 published a report on the institution of the attorney general, noted that the AG "requires expertise in penal laws." The commission also noted that "expertise in the fields of constitutional and administrative law are also required." The cabinet decision on the appointment of the attorney general in 2000 provided that the candidate should be qualified, "suitable and appropriate," in accordance with the principles outlined in the Shamgar report.

The concise language of the report should not mislead. The attorney general must first and foremost have in-depth knowledge of criminal law; only as an add-on should he have expertise in constitutional and administrative law. In today's professional world, which requires specialization and where we wouldn't find anyone with a complete mastery of both criminal and constitutional-administrative law, expertise in criminal law is preferable and essential.

The report's recommendation should be read against the backdrop that criminal law, and especially anything related to bringing high-ranking figures to justice, is a prism through which all the attorney general's work is viewed. A mistake in judgment on this subject can cost the AG the public's trust. Fresh in office, Menachem Mazuz's hasty decision not to try Ariel Sharon in connection with the Greek island affair, despite the recommendation by state prosecutor Edna Arbel, who had wide experience in this field, proved two things. First, it showed the personal involvement and authority of the attorney general in such an important decision, although he had a skilled professional as state prosecutor serving with him. Second, it showed the consequences of a lack of expertise and prior experience.

An opinion by the High Court of Justice (although the court refrained from interfering, as is customary regarding an attorney general's decision not to pursue a case due to a lack of evidence), included harsh criticism by justice Eliahu Mazza, a criminal law expert, on the way the decision was made. Mazuz's conduct in everything relating to the case against former president Moshe Katsav also proves that Mazuz's experience as attorney general is no a substitute for a familiarity with criminal law over many years of work as a prosecutor or criminal defense attorney.

The Shamgar Commission did not satisfy itself by noting the area of primary expertise required of the attorney general. It also focused on personality traits, including "the highest professional level combining insistence on personal integrity, intellectual integrity, emotional independence [and] loyalty to the fundamental values of the state."

As someone who knows Weinstein well, I can testify that it would be hard to describe someone more trustworthy. The commission wrote as if it were describing his attributes. He is known for fairness, integrity, professionalism and common sense.