Defense lawyer Avi Himi takes helm of scandal-battered Bar Association

Defense lawyer Avi Himi takes helm of scandal-battered Bar Association

Acting head beats out challenge by celebrity criminal attorney Zion Amir, following resignation of former head Effi Nave over fraud, sexual bribery allegations

Attorney Avi Himi at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on June 5, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Attorney Avi Himi at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on June 5, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Attorney Avi Himi, 60, was elected head of the Israel Bar Association, beating out rival Zion Amir in a Tuesday vote focused on rehabilitating the troubled organization.

Both Himi and Amir are noted criminal trial lawyers. A Rosh Ha’ayin resident, Himi owns a prominent criminal defense firm.

Bar Association officials said Wednesday afternoon that Himi had taken an insurmountable lead, though the final vote count was not yet completed.

Himi has promised to focus on rehabilitating the Bar Association after a period of declining influence and growing criticism of its management and relevance in recent years. Himi has served as interim chairman of the association since January, when its last head, Efi Nave, resigned under a cloud of suspicion in two criminal cases, including allegations he traded appointments for sex.

Attorney Zion Amir on August 4, 2016. (Roy Alima/Flash90)

The latest vote also saw continued decline in voter turnout among Israel’s attorneys. Just 18,000 ballots were cast in Tuesday’s vote out of the 67,000 attorneys who are eligible, a turnout of 27 percent, slightly lower than the 28.5% in the last race in 2018 or 31% four years earlier.

As head of the Bar Association, Himi will now hold one of nine seats on the powerful Judicial Appointments Committee, which decides on placement and promotions for judges in Israel’s three-tiered judicial system. He will also have a key role in choosing who will hold the Bar Association’s second seat on the committee.

Both candidates had vowed to help rehabilitate the organization after former chairman Nave’s fall, and to defend the High Court of Justice and state prosecution amid calls by right-wing politicians to weaken and dramatically reform the institutions.

Amir, a well-known criminal lawyer who represented former president Moshe Katsav and many other celebrity defendants, conceded defeat.

“I hope the incoming chairman will act to unify the ranks and rehabilitate the standing of the country’s lawyers and the dignity of the profession…. His success is crucial to us all. Good luck,” he said.

Top attorney Efi Nave, suspected in sexual bribery case, after his release to house arrest on January 23, 2019. (Meir Vaknin/Flash90)

Justice Minister Amir Ohana, also an attorney, called Himi to congratulate him, saying, “I am absolutely certain that we will be able to work together and cooperate to help restore the judicial system, of which the Bar Association is a vital part, to its former glory.”

Former head Nave is a suspect in two criminal cases, including one in which he allegedly used his seat on the Judicial Appointments Committee to advance judges in exchange for sexual favors.

In the other case, he is accused of allegedly defrauding border authorities to help his girlfriend get into the country without passing through border security.

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