Retired judge Yitzhak Cohen was found guilty of sexual harassment on Monday, despite a plea deal that was to have seen him avoid a conviction.
“Even though this is an exceptional measure” — ignoring the terms of the plea deal — “the public interest can’t abide the process being completed without the defendant being convicted,” ruled Judge Einat Ron, presiding over the Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court.
Nevertheless, she agreed to the rest of the terms of the plea, whereby Cohen’s punishment will be 220 hours of community service and a fine of NIS 2,500 ($700).
According to the indictment, the complainant, a court employee who worked as a personal assistant to the judge, stated that when she came to bring a document to Cohen, he sat her on his knee, put his hand up her shirt, and touched her back. When she stood up he also stood and hugged her.
In a previous hearing, in March, Cohen told the court that he deeply regretted the incident, and that it was “a momentary lapse that undid [his] entire world.” He said his case led to “unprecedented shaming.”
Ron said that her decision to overturn the plea bargain was made “in view of the accused’s lofty position, status and seniority, the age and status difference between him and the complainant, and the fact that the acts were carried out while serving in his office and when the complainant was serving in her role.”
Furthermore she harshly criticized the District Attorney’s Office for drawing up the deal, saying that failing to convict the former judge would weaken public trust in the courts.
“All other issues must take a backseat to the public interests and the serious harm that was caused by the actions of the defendant — not only to the complainant herself but also to the entire judicial system and the public’s trust in it,” she said.
Ron said she had taken into account the fact that Cohen accepted responsibility for the act and expressed empathy toward the complainant, “but this does not diminish the severity of the act, which does not fall within the scope of cases that can end without a conviction.”
Cohen is the former head of the Nazareth District Court. In 2014 he was dropped as a candidate for the Supreme Court due to other revelations of sexual harassment, which were never investigated because the statute of limitations had expired.