A judge who mocked a sex offender rabbi accused of defrauding his sick and elderly followers out of millions of shekels with miracle cures, including the administering of candy to cancer patients, was to be severely reprimanded for her courtroom conduct.
Judge Sharon Lary-Bavly apologized after a court watchdog recommended she be punished for appearing to mock Eliezer Berland, the leader of a Hasidic sect who was arrested in February for alleged widespread fraud involving cash payments for promises of miraculous recoveries.
Judge Sharon Lary-Bavly had written in her February decision that Berland “cynically exploited” his alleged victims by, among other things, giving “Mentos (candy) to patients under the guise of medication.”
During the February 13 deliberations, Berland’s attorney Amit Hadad raised the issue of his client’s poor health as a reason to not keep him in custody.
Lary-Bavly shot back, “Give him a Mentos.”
The widely reported quip was praised on social media but earned the disapproval of Supreme Court president Esther Hayut, who subsequently ordered an inquiry into Lary-Bavly’s conduct.
Another remark by the judge in that hearing that was also criticized came as she grew impatient with the defense’s attempts to demonstrate Berland’s poor health.
“I have understood that he’s no 17-year-old spring chicken,” she said of Berland, 82.
The ombudsman of the Israeli Judiciary, former Supreme Court justice Uri Shoham, accepted a complaint against Lary-Bavly’s conduct and recommended Monday that Hayut summon her and issue a severe reprimand.
The judge subsequently apologized for her remarks.
Berland, a convicted sex offender, was arrested for fraud after hundreds of people filed a police complaint against him for selling prayers and “wonder drugs” to desperate members of his community, and for promising families of handicapped individuals that their loved ones would be able to walk and families of convicted felons that their loved ones would be freed from prison.
He was arrested in Jerusalem’s Mea Shearim neighborhood, along with his wife and other senior members of his ultra-Orthodox Shuvu Bonim sect, as his followers clashed with police nearby. Since then, the home of a former disciple who is now a witness against Berland has been vandalized multiple times.
In the arrest raid, dozens of boxes of powders and pills were found at Berland’s home that were given to supplicants as “wonder drugs.” Initial laboratory checks revealed them to be over-the-counter pain medication and candy, including Mentos, officials said.
Berland was the subject of a several-year international manhunt before being arrested and jailed in Israel in 2016 on two counts of indecent acts and one case of assault after being accused of sexually assaulting followers.
He was sentenced to 18 months in prison in November 2016, as part of a plea deal that included seven months of time served but was freed just five months later, in part due to ill health. After his release, he swiftly returned to leader the Shuvu Banim sect, where he commands a cult-like following.