After texting scandal, tighter rules on contacts between judges, prosecutors
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After texting scandal, tighter rules on contacts between judges, prosecutors

Supreme Court chief Esther Hayut issues new procedures to boost public confidence in system in wake of collusion scare in high-profile corruption case

Supreme Court Chief Justice Esther Hayut speaks during a conference at the national library in Jerusalem on June 6, 2018.  (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Supreme Court Chief Justice Esther Hayut speaks during a conference at the national library in Jerusalem on June 6, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

President of the Supreme Court Esther Hayut on Sunday issued a new set of procedures governing the interaction between judges and investigators and prosecutors before the filing of indictments against suspects.

The procedures were the outcome of a review prompted by a texting scandal that appeared to show a prosecutor colluding with the judge presiding over a major corruption case involving the telecommunications giant, Bezeq.

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.

“We have been given the opportunity to provide an appropriate and transparent response to any systemic impairment,” Hayut said in a statement and added that the procedures “will help regulate the working interfaces between judges and the prosecution and investigation bodies, and will strengthen the public’s confidence in the system.”

Eran Shacham-Shavit, the legal adviser to the Israel Securities Authority, was working on the Bezeq graft case in February when Channel 10 News broadcast messages sent between him and Judge Ronit Poznansky-Katz, who was presiding over the case at the time.

In a WhatsApp chat, Shacham-Shavit told Judge Ronit Poznansky-Katz that the prosecution would seek the release of some suspects but not others. “Try and act surprised” in the courtroom, Shacham-Shavit wrote.

Judge Ronit Poznansky-Katz leaves the Supreme court in Jerusalem after appearing before the Supreme Court justices as part of the disciplinary process against her, March 21, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In another chat, Shacham-Shavit wrote that regarding the suspects “[Bezeq CEO] Stella [Handler] and Iris [Elovitch, Shaul’s wife], we will ask for a few more days tomorrow. They will request three days, but you can definitely, definitely give two days.”

“You’re continuing to reveal everything to me and I’ll have to act really, really surprised,” Poznansky-Katz responds, apparently jokingly.

Shacham-Shavit later claimed that he and Judge Poznansky-Katz were not previously acquainted, and said he was only in direct contact with her regarding the logistics of the case because he did not have an assistant at the time.

The conversation took place before the suspects’ remand hearings in the so-called Case 4000, where they were ostensibly given an opportunity to make their case before the judge decided whether they can be released from custody and under what conditions.

Israel Securities Authority investigator Eran Shacham-Shavit (YouTube screenshot)

Following publication of the chat Poznansky-Katz was removed from planned hearings in the case, and in April a disciplinary court for judges found her guilty of unbecoming behavior. No date has been set for the sentencing.

Last month Shacham-Shavit signed a plea deal with the Civil Service Commission. Under the terms of the agreement, Shacham-Shavit returned to the investigations department of the Israel Securities Authority where he was to be severely reprimanded, and demoted for a year. After that time he will be permitted to resume his previous position as the legal adviser to the Investigations Department of the ISA and to represent the ISA on legal matters.

Case 4000 involves suspicions that the chairman and controlling shareholder of the telecommunications giant Bezeq, Shaul Elovitch, ordered the Walla news site, which he owns, to grant positive coverage to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his family, in exchange for the prime minister allegedly advancing regulations benefiting Bezeq and Elovitch.

Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing.

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