Israeli Supreme Court Justice receives death threat

Israeli Supreme Court Justice Anat Baron has been assigned additional security detail after receiving a death threat in the mail over the weekend. The letter apparently made veiled reference to Justice Baron’s son, who was killed by a suicide bomber in 2003.

This is grotesque and illegal behavior, and was immediately condemned by Israeli leaders including Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. But Netanyahu himself has been accused of inciting this type of behavior, given his ongoing verbal attacks on the judiciary as he fights for his political life. The parallels to President Trump’s assaults on American judges are hard to ignore.

To be clear, neither Netanyahu nor Trump can possibly be said to wish physical harm to judges with whom they disagree. But rhetoric matters, and when politicians of any stripe wage war on the judiciary as part of their partisan battle plan, they do bear some responsibility for the collateral damage, both to judges’ reputations or (worse) to their physical well-being.

Israel’s High Court opens to cameras

The Times of Israel has a wonderful long-form piece on the decision of Israel’s High Court of Justice to open its proceedings to videocameras, just in time for a contentious political and legal fight over the proposed creation of a new unity government. The story explains how the High Court — facing charges that it had become increasingly political and therefore untrustworthy — decided to open its deliberations to public view. A snippet:

The fears of contamination and spectacle have been overtaken by growing frustration that the court’s story was being told by others, by right-wing critics and left-wing moralists, that no one was left in the public debate to defend the court on its own terms, to argue its deliberations were earnest and exacting and its concerns legal rather than political.

And so Chief Justice Esther Hayut embarked on a “pilot” project in mid-April to broadcast many of the court’s hearings and deliberations to the outside world — just in time for the most contentious and politically significant hearings in the nation’s recent history.

The result has been a revelation. For the first time, Israelis could watch the proceedings in their entirety. And according to the Government Press Office that managed the broadcast, about a million Israelis watched the deliberations on Sunday and Monday — 130,000 just through the GPO servers, and the rest via the live broadcasts on all three major television channels and multiple online news outlets.

They watched the justices push back against all sides, saw their frustration with the sloppiness and grandstanding of the left-wing petitioners and their pinpoint questions to the representatives of the right that forced unexpected compromises.

Again and again, the justices interrupted attorneys’ speeches prepared not for the courtrooms but for the cameras.

Sunlight is the best disinfectant, for the viewer as much as the viewed.

How coronavirus is affecting the courts — April 3 update

The novel coronavirus is affecting societies worldwide, and judicial systems are no exception. Here is a selection of the latest news and profile stories on how courts are dealing with the epidemic:

What is the state of Israel’s courts in the time of coronavirus? (Jerusalem Post)

Uncertainty looms over Supreme Court as lower courts transition to teleconferencing (Washington Free Beacon)

Federal Judge’s Sentencing acknowledges COVID-19 (Forbes) (a story about the sentencing of certain defendants in the “Varsity Blues” college admissions scandal)

COVID-19 and Online Dispute Resolution: It’s a Whole New World Out There (op-ed for the Connecticut Law Tribune)

7th Circuit suspends most paper copies to slow spread of COVID-19 (Chicago Daily Law Bulletin)

Previous roundup coverage here. And check the home page for additional discussion of coronavirus and the courts.

 

Bell on the embarrassment at the ICC

Professor Avi Bell points out the embarrassing treatment of Israel at the International Criminal Court, where due process, transparency, and moral legitimacy are nowhere to be found. Bell argues that Israel’s only reasonable response is to stop treating the ICC like a legitimate legal or juridical organization. Previously, Israel had determined to cooperate with the ICC in order to assure that its side of the story was told. But given the ICC’s absurd and open hostility to Israel, I am inclined to agree with Professor Bell’s assessment.

Israel cracks down on ex parte communications between judges and prosecutors

In the wake of a high-profile scandal in which prosecutors in a major corruption case exchanged private text messages with a judge about its planned strategy, Israel’s Supreme Court has announced new rules to prevent further one-sided communications.

Under the new rules all contact between the judge and the investigative and prosecuting bodies will only be made during court hearings. Aside from in the courtroom, no direct requests are to be made of judges, but rather are to be filled through the court administration.

This makes a great deal of sense, and gives the court system a chance to rebuild whatever public legitimacy it has lost from the scandal.

Israel’s Supreme Court hires media consultant

The Israeli Supreme Court has hired a media consultant for the first time. The consultant’s role will include helping Chief Justice Esther Hayut coordinate the work of various spokespeople throughout the court system.

Some in Israel are painting this as a gimmick to improve the legitimacy of the court system through public relations. But media adviser is a pretty common role in the United States, where many state and local courts have public information officers. It strikes me as an entirely reasonable move in a country with a sophisticated media and fast-moving news cycle.

Former Israeli Supreme Court President defends private meetings with Prime Minister

Miriam Naor, the former President of Israel’s Supreme Court, recently gave a rare public interview in which she defended her private meetings with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu while serving on the Court. Naor maintained that she was appropriately discussing major legislation that would effect judicial branch operations. Critics argue that such meetings could compromise the integrity of a court that could eventually hear criminal charges against the Prime Minister.

This is a delicate thing. As I have noted regularly on this blog, most courts worldwide depend significantly on the other branches of their respective governments for resources and enabling legislation. It is both pragmatic and smart for the administrative head of a court system to share judicial concerns and perspectives with lawmakers. But closed-door meetings invite the perception of an improper, closer-then-arms-length relationship between the branches and their representatives.

Two new justices appointed to Israel Supreme Court

Two nominees for Israel’s Supreme Court were confirmed this week.  Alex Stein, a Brooklyn Law professor who was born in the Soviet Union, will join current Tel Aviv District Court judge Ofer Grosskopf on the country’s highest court. They will replace Yoram Dinziger and Uri Shoham, whose terms end later this year.

The nominations were not without controversy. Stein has lived in the United States for the past 14 years (he previously lived in Israel), but has a reputation as a conservative and was strongly supported by current Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked. The confirmations also came just a week after another Tel Aviv District Court judge, Khaled Kabub, withdrew his candidacy for the Supreme Court. Kabub, an Israeli Arab and a Muslim, faced stiff confirmation headwinds after another Israeli Arab, George Kara, was appointed to the court last year.

 

Muslim judge on the short list for appointment to Israel’s Supreme Court

Israel’s Judicial Selection Committee reportedly is strongly considering Khaled Kabub, currently a district judge in Tel Aviv, for appointment to the country’s Supreme Court. If appointed to an open poisiton this coming February, Judge Kabub would be the first Muslim to sit on the court in a permanent capacity.

The Selection Committee includes (among others) current members of the Supreme Court, the country’s Justice Minister, and representatives of the Israel Bar Association. It is the bar association that is reportedly pushing Kabub’s candidacy. The choice is interesting not only because of Kabub’s religion, but because of his current position: he would be replacing Justice Yoram Danziger, who came to the court from the private sector, and there had been a general understanding that Danziger’s replacement would also be a private attorney. The bar association, however, has argued that it is important for the Court to reflect all segments of Israeli society, and the appointment of a Muslim judge would advance that cause.

Aspiring rabbinical judges in Israel must now certify that they have not withheld a divorce

I have written previously about the rabbinical courts in Israel, a court system which shares jurisdiction with Israel’s civil courts on divorce, family law, and personal status cases, but which applies entirely different law. This disparity often leads to a race to the courthouse among dueling spouses in divorce cases. Among the most controversial aspects of the religious law is a husband’s traditional power to withhold permission for the couple to divorce, which can trap women in unhappy or abusive relationships. Of late, the rabbinical courts have attempted to respond by sanctioning these “recalcitrant husbands,” although not to the degree advocated by women’s rights groups.

In an important new ruling, Israel’s Chief Rabbi David Lau has announced that aspiring rabbinical judges will now have to certify they have personally have not refused to grant their own wives a divorce. While refusal to grant a divorce is not automatically disqualifying, it will have that practical effect on a candidacy. An official in Rabbi Lau’s office stated that “Disqualifying candidates to be rabbinical judges for having been divorce refusers constitutes a values-based statement that a man who does not listen to the instructions of a rabbinical court can never be allowed to be a judge in a rabbinical court.”