Justice minister files complaint against judge in texting scandal

Justice minister files complaint against judge in texting scandal

Supreme Court expected to establish a special disciplinary court against Ronit Poznansky-Katz over her communications with a state prosecutor

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (r) and Supreme Court President Esther Hayut on February 22, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash 90)
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (r) and Supreme Court President Esther Hayut on February 22, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash 90)

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked filed a complaint with the Supreme Court Tuesday against a judge who held ethically inappropriate communications with a state prosecutor in the Bezeq corruption probe, Hebrew media reported.

In response, Esther Hayut, head of the court, is expected to set up a special disciplinary court to hear the complaint against Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court Judge Ronit Poznansky-Katz, who discussed remand rulings for suspects with Israel Securities Authority attorney Eran Shacham-Shavit.

On Monday the court announced an inquiry into the incident, headed by Supreme Court Justice Yosef Elron, who will be joined by Beersheba District Court Judge Revital Yaffe Katz, and Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court Judge Einat Ron.

In announcing the committee of inquiry, Hayut said that a preliminary investigation had revealed, “a series of personal and systemic failures.”

Additionally, the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee convened Monday to review communication guidelines between judges and law enforcement officials, in the wake of the revelations.

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

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

He found that the relationship between the two continued for several months and soon turned into an inappropriate dialog. “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.

Obtained by Channel 10 last week, the text messages between Poznansky-Katz and Shacham-Shavit sparked accusations that state officials were obstructing justice, and 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 be remanded further.

“Try and act surprised,” he wrote.

“I’m practicing my surprised face,” she responded before apparently agreeing to the request.

A full transcript of the messages released several days later, however, appeared to be less damning than initially reported — when only a snippet was available — showing that Poznansky-Katz and Shacham-Shavit were mainly discussing case logistics.

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

On Friday, the prime minister and his wife, Sara, were questioned for the first time in the case. After the five-hour interrogation, investigation officials reportedly said that Netanyahu will be hard-pressed to explain away the “concrete” suspicions and “solid” evidence against him.

On Monday suspect Nir Hefetz, a former top media adviser to Netanyahu’s family, turned state’s witness in the probe, in a dramatic development that could strengthen the evidence against the prime minister.

He joined Shlomo Filber, the former director-general of the Communications Ministry and a longtime Netanyahu confidant, who also signed a deal last month to turn state’s witness and possibly incriminate Netanyahu in the affair.

Police believe the evidence they have, including testimonies, physical evidence, and audio recordings, directly ties the Netanyahus to the alleged quid pro quo scheme, according to Hadashot news.

Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing in these cases.

Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.

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