Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

30 Sivan 5768 - July 3, 2008 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Judicial Ombudsman Light-Handed — Until HaRav Sherman Issued Ruling

By S. Cohen

The Commission for Public Grievances Against Judges is not carrying out its duties and is even acting improperly, writes Atty. Rabbi Rafael Shtub at the beginning of a 20-page letter addressed to Justice Minister Daniel Friedman, in his capacity as chairman of the Judicial Selection Committee. As such Shtub lodged a request for the Public Grievance Ombudsman Selection Committee to dismiss the ombudsman, Judge Tova Strassberg-Cohen, who earns NIS 90,000 ($27,000) per month and has a large staff at her disposal.

Like in every other country, in Israel judges are supposed to conduct themselves in accordance with the law and the justice system guidelines. For judges, the law is supposed to be the single guiding factor in rendering decisions, whereas the judge's ideology and worldview, along with all other considerations such as settling political scores, are wholly out of place.

In order to oversee judges' actions, six years ago an organization was formed called the Commission for Public Grievances Against Judges. Atty. Shtub questions the need for the commission to begin with, suggesting in his letter that it be disbanded entirely since it failed utterly in its task of ameliorating judges' conduct. He says that ever since the commission started operating, the situation has worsened and criticism of judges has merely increased. The need to find an alternative to the commission or to appoint a different ombudsman with greater integrity has become more acute in light of the questionable conduct the ombudsman showed in the Druckman Affair in which she lent her support to the fraudulent acts perpetrated. These events put a quick end to the illusion that the ombudsman was working to improve judges' conduct.

Atty. Shtub raises several difficult questions regarding the ombudsman's conduct, trying to find the common thread tying the various incidents of other judges who were held accountable for disciplinary infractions, to HaRav Sherman's ruling. Among the incidents reported to her were several that were far worse than what HaRav Sherman was accused of, yet she never took measures that were as severe as those she took with regard to HaRav Sherman.

Shtub quotes her remarks in the ombudsman's report for 2004 in which she describes her judicial methods, writing, "The ombudsman is indeed authorized to recommend the dismissal of a judge, yet no use has been made of this step of directly recommending to the commission that a judge be dismissed."

The report also notes the maximal penalty a judge was given. "A recommendation was made to transfer a judge from a certain jurisdiction to another area."

Yet interestingly enough, when it came to HaRav Sherman the ombudsman decided to try to remove him from his post, in total opposition to her policy in dealing with judges.

Attorney Shtub's letter does not mention theoretical matters, halachic opinions or ideology, but is built on the decision- making pattern the judge has followed since her appointment. The description in the letter demonstrates that she has one form of justice for a judge and another for a dayan. Towards the latter she is hostile, writing remarks she never issued with regard to judges.

Atty. Shtub says he does not know of any other cases in which Judge Strassberg was so aggressive, but what she herself writes reveals much about her hostility.

Her legally vested power to penalize judges or dayonim gives her a list of measures she can use. The simplest and most routine step is to make a note in the judge's official record. A more severe measure is to issue a warning. The next step up is to give a reprimand. And a very acute measure is to recommend a temporary suspension. In very severe circumstances, the most extreme step is to recommend that the commission remove the judge from his post.

Among various examples Atty. Shtub lists, he cites the case of a judge who said openly in his court that all chareidim are liars and that he doesn't believe a single one of them — effectively rejecting the testimony of hundreds of thousands of Israeli citizens. In response, Judge Strassberg chose the lightest penalty, a note in the judge's file.

However, in the case of HaRav Sherman, whose judicial actions were untainted, the judge opted for the maximal measure the law permits her, though on no previous occasion had she taken such drastic measures against any other public official.


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