Judge dismissed in Bezeq probe texting scandal appeals ruling

Judge dismissed in Bezeq probe texting scandal appeals ruling

Court freezes Ronit Poznansky-Katz’s sacking after petition claims decision ‘disproportionate’ to her offense — coordinating remand rulings with prosecutor

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

A judge who held ethically “inappropriate” communications with a state prosecutor in the Bezeq corruption probe, which involves Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, appealed on Sunday to the High Court of Justice against the decision to dismiss her indefinitely, claiming that her punishment wasn’t proportional to the offense.

The court subsequently issued an interim order freezing Ronit Poznansky-Katz’s dismissal at her request, pending a ruling on her petition.

The Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court judge was dismissed in July following a hearing by a special disciplinary panel. She had been suspended since April after it emerged that she had coordinated remand rulings for suspects with Israel Securities Authority attorney Eran Shacham-Shavit in a series of text messages.

In her petition, Poznansky-Katz’s lawyers cited a disciplinary arrangement agreed upon earlier by her attorneys and representatives for Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, which would have seen the judge suspended for a year without payment.

The disciplinary committee, headed by former Supreme Court president Asher Grunis, along with Supreme Court Justice Neal Hendel and the head of the Nazareth District Court, voted unanimously to dismiss the judge.

The disciplinary tribunal had ruled that it doesn’t have the authority to suspend judges for limited periods, and therefore made the decision to reject the punishment agreed upon with Shaked and instead dismiss Poznansky-Katz.

The petition filed Sunday said that “the agreed arrangement embodies not only her confession to the allegations, but mainly the fact that dismissal — and in effect, permanent ousting — do not match the severity of the actions or failures attributed to the complainant, which were made in good faith, innocently, mistakenly and not deliberately!”

It added that the judge had admitted her failure “under the assumption and sincere belief that the arrangement would be honored … and [due to] her knowledge that the complaint wasn’t designed to bring about such a drastic disciplinary measure as permanent dismissal.”

Supreme Court President Esther Hayut set up the special disciplinary tribunal after the justice minister filed a complaint with the Supreme Court against the judge in March.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Esther Hayut at a hearing at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on January 14, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Obtained by Channel 10 news in February, the text messages between Poznansky-Katz and attorney Shacham-Shavit sparked accusations that state officials were obstructing justice and that the suspects would not receive a fair trial.

In the exchange, Shacham-Shavit told Poznansky-Katz that the Securities Authority intended to ask that some of the suspects in the probe be released, while others remain in custody.

“Try and act surprised,” he wrote.

“I’m practicing my surprised face,” she responded.

Judge Ronit Poznansky-Katz (L) and the Israel Securities Authority’s legal adviser, Eran Shacham-Shavit (R)

A full transcript of the messages released several days later appeared to be less damning than the initial report, showing that Poznansky-Katz and Shacham-Shavit were mainly discussing case logistics.

Judge Eliezer Rivlin, the ombudsman handling complaints against judges, ruled in March that there would be no criminal proceedings against Poznansky-Katz, but recommended that she face a disciplinary hearing over the “highly inappropriate” exchange.

He found that the relationship between the two continued for several months and soon produced inappropriate interactions. “During the months of June, July, December 2017, January and February 2018, Shacham-Shavit addressed the judge directly several times regarding the cases he was dealing with,” Rivlin wrote.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on March 11, 2018. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool)

The Bezeq corruption investigation, dubbed Case 4000, involves suspicions that Bezeq owner Shaul Elovitch ordered the Walla news site, which he also owns, to grant positive coverage to Netanyahu and his family exchange for the prime minister, who was also communications minister at the time, advancing regulations benefiting him.

Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, have been questioned several times in the investigation, and police last week indicated that the two, as well as their son Yair, are suspected of taking bribes in the case.

The Netanyahus deny wrongdoing.

Raoul Wootliff and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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