The Israel Bar Association received a powerful jolt following its recent elections.
Dror Choter-Yishai, Chairman of the Association for the past few years as well as focus of a number of public legal storms, resigned his position even before the final election results were in.
Members of the Association convened last week to cast ballots for one of two candidates who remained in the second round: Alex Hartman and Shlomo Cohen.
The recent election campaign was unusually stormy. The five candidates, Alex Hartman, Shlomo Cohen, Yossi Shapiro, Shai Segal and Chaim Shtenger aimed their arrows at one man: presiding chairman, Dror Choter-Yishai. Under such circumstances it was obvious that Choter-Yishai had no chance, despite the fact that his views regarding the maladies of the judicial system coincide with those of most other members of the Association.
The former chairman of the Bar Association made headlines as a result of the famous interview he gave to this writer in Yated Ne'eman, in December, '96. Choter-Yishai said that the case backlog of the High Court is so extreme that it corrupts the system. Pure legal cases are not heard, while the judges sit on all manner of political and social issues. He also criticized the fact that the judges are allowed to write and sell legal reference works which are high-priced and highly profitable. Barak's books cost thousands of dollars.
Although Choter-Yishai had expressed similar views in various forums long before that interview -- mainly at meetings of the National Council of the Bar Association -- a public expression of his positions on issues of the judicial system, especially in the chareidi press, did not help his public standing.
His major opponent was Chief Justice Aharon Barak. Even before the appearance of the Yated interview, Barak had instructed his fellow judges to boycott the Bar Association because of its head.
On various occasions, Barak freely expressed his position on these issues, and the one who did most of the work for him was none other than outgoing Justice Minister, Tzachi Hanegbi, who wanted to win the approval of Barak as well as that the judges and senior members of the Justice Ministry.
Both Barak and Hanegbi lack concrete answers to the difficult allegations hurled against them by Choter-Yishai.
The outgoing chairman of the Bar Association was also a constant target of personal plots by the legal system.
Choter-Yishai did not expect that his struggle on behalf of the country's lawyers and to improve the judicial system, as well as his battle to halt Aharon Barak's dangerous trend of "judicial activism," would draw in its wake an unprecedented, ugly battle against him by the State Prosecutor.
The five candidates running against him took maximal advantage of this situation, and results were not long in coming.
The election campaign, during which the candidates invested vast resources in order to win the senior position -- a non- paying one -- has ended
The candidates enjoyed a lot of publicity in the general press, something from which they would not ordinarily benefit due to strict laws prohibiting lawyers from advertising.
It is important to note that the law doesn't prohibit the chairman of the Bar Association from continuing to work as a lawyer, a fact which aroused substantial criticism. But all of the candidates unanimously rejected this criticism.
On the eve of the elections, the outgoing chairman of the Bar Association rejected claims that he had exploited his high position for the advancement of his financial affairs. Critics pointed to Choter-Yishai's vast wealth, and claimed that all who visit his offices in the Diamond Building near the Diamond Exchange in Ramat Gan cannot help but feel that this is one of the most luxurious offices, or perhaps the most luxurious attorney's office they have ever seen.
"This isn't the only biased libel against me," said Choter- Yishai.
Choter-Yishai has been a long-time partner of the business magnate, David Appel. He tells his critics that since his election as chairman of the Bar Association, he has not only lost old customers, but he has also not gotten any new ones.
Choter-Yishai was certain that he would win, due to the fact that most of the country's lawyers support his positions. However the vilification and mudslinging had a profound effect on the results.
The last candidate on the list was Chaim Shtenger. His aggressive publicity campaign, which included huge billboards and extensive advertising in the newspapers as if he were running for prime minister, in the end brought him only 191 votes (a mere 1.78% of the total). Shtenger, who wears a knitted kippa, has for a number of years been trying to draw attention to himself by his flagrant behavior and comments. It seems that chareidi and religious lawyers did not vote for him.
Shai Segal, who received 917 votes (8.55%), gained one representative in the National Council. Segal who presented himself as the representative of the small and average-sized law offices, promised to try to close the law colleges, whose graduates have been flooding the market. Segal also announced his intention to break the monopoly of large offices in the governmental companies.
An additional candidate who tried to stand out in the recent election campaign is Yossi Shapiro of Jerusalem, who received 969 votes (9.03%). Unlike Shtenger and Segal, who come from small offices, Segal comes from a large, successful office. On the eve of the elections, he claimed that unlike his competitors he thinks that the head of the Bar Association should not be allowed to work privately while holding the position, and that the position of chairman of the Bar Association should be a full-time, paid job. Shapiro also expressed opposition to the participation of the head of the Bar Association in the Committee for the Appointment of Judges.
The leading candidates were Alex Hartman and Shlomo Cohen, both from large, prestigious offices.
Hartman is a senior partner in the S. Horowitz firm, headed by one of the country's top lawyers, Amnon Goldenberg. "I am not ashamed of the fact that I am a partner in a prestigious office. That doesn't put me in an ivory tower and I don't feel that I'm one of the elite," Hartman said.
From his point of view, both Choter-Yishai and his chief opponent are in the same category, which he defines as "the old establishment." In the end, Hartman succeeded in reaching first place, winning 3,318 votes (29.24%) in the first round.
Hartman competed alone against the veteran Shlomo Cohen in the second round. Cohen has been Choter-Yishai's bitter foe for the past eight years. He comes from a large and prestigious firm, and his main expertise is in what he calls "spiritual" properties: patent rights, manufacturers and commercial labels.
Cohen doesn't deny that he made use of the services of a campaign manager during the elections, and hired Eyal Arad, the man who conducted the election campaign of the Center party, and formerly that of Binyomin Netanyahu.
His competitors call him the "eternal opposition man," battling in vain against Choter-Yishai. Cohen is quite annoyed by that title.
Choter-Yishai, the outgoing Bar chairman, accepted his loss in the elections rather calmly. "I fought not for myself, but for the general good. If my colleagues don't know how to appreciate all my battles for their sake, and didn't elect me in the first round, I see no reason to continue holding my position."
As we have said, Choter-Yishai resigned from his position even before the results of the first round were known, after 70% of the votes were tallied, when it became clear that he hadn't received the 40% needed for a victory in the first round.
There is no doubt that Choter-Yishai's failure in the elections will give renewed impetus to Chief Justice Barak and to senior members of the legal system to carry out their planned reform of the judicial system, as well as in one of the most sensitive issues, the appointment of judges.
Barak and his colleagues didn't hide their satisfaction with the election results, and noted that they are anticipating "a new page" in the relationship with the Bar Association, where they will gain support for the reforms as proposed by the Orr committee.
Senior members of the legal system are anticipating headway in the battle Barak is waging for the establishment of an independent court authority.
Barak is trying to keep the issue of the appointment of judges in his hands alone, so that neither the Bar Association, other members of the committee, nor representatives of the Government and the Knesset will have any say in the matter.
Now, with Dror Choter-Yishai out, Barak may finally realize his plans.
It is reasonable to assume that Barak and other senior members of the judicial system will be forced to contend with a broad front against the planned reform, and also for a personal attack launched by the senior members of the system against Choter-Yishai.
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