Supreme Court president cracks down on grandstanding judges

Supreme Court president cracks down on grandstanding judges

Esther Hayut orders a judge to explain his impromptu press conference, days after ordering inquiry into another who appeared to mock defendant

Supreme Court Chief Justice Esther Hayut at a court hearing at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on July 29, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Supreme Court Chief Justice Esther Hayut at a court hearing at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on July 29, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Supreme Court President Justice Esther Hayut on Monday ordered a judge to explain his impromptu press conference at the start of a highly charged case, the second case in days where she has moved to discipline judges acting improperly.

Hayut directed Haifa Magistrate’s Court Chief Justice Einas Salameh to summon Judge Zayed Falah and demand a clarification of his remarks. Falah opened the closely watched trial of the police officer who killed an Ethiopian-Israeli teenager last year with a speech to the press and court about how impartial he was.

“Protests and the media will not impact the court,” said Falah. “If the defendant deserves to be acquitted, I will not hesitate to do so. The same goes for a conviction,” he told a courtroom full with press and supporters of the family of Solomon Tekah.

The police officer who killed Tekah in June 2019 was charged earlier this month with negligent homicide — an offense carrying a maximum of three years in jail.

Worka and Wbjig Tekah hold a picture of their son Solomon Tekah, 19, who was killed by an off duty police officer, at their home in the Israeli city of Haifa on July 3, 2019. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)

The shooting occurred in the Haifa neighborhood of Kiryat Haim on June 30. According to the investigation, the off-duty officer drew his weapon and fired into the ground at youths who were pelting him with stones. The bullet ricocheted and killed Tekah, 19.

The killing sparked widespread, and sometimes violent protests, from the Ethiopian community who have complained of systematic police racism.

Hayut’s Monday directive was the second disciplinary move she had ordered into a lower court judge in days.

On Sunday, Hayut ordered an inquiry into a judge who mocked Eliezer Berland, the sex offender rabbi accused of fleecing terminally ill patients of millions of shekels, including with fake medications.

The Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court last Thursday extended by eight days the detention of Berland, who has been arrested for alleged widespread fraud involving cash payments for promises of miraculous recoveries.

Judge Sharon Lary-Bavly wrote in her decision that Berland “cynically exploited” his alleged victims by, among other things, giving “Mentos (candy) to patients under the guise of medication.”

During the deliberations, Berland’s attorney Amit Hadad raised the issue of his client’s poor health as a reason to not keep him in custody.

Judge Sharon Lary-Bavly (Israel Courts)

Lary-Bavly shot back, “Give him a Mentos.”

The widely reported quip was praised on social media but earned the disapproval of the Supreme Court president, who ordered an inquiry into Lary-Bavly’s conduct on Sunday. The Jerusalem judge will be summoned for a hearing, Hebrew reports said.

Berland, a convicted sex offender, was arrested for fraud after hundreds of people complained to police 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 last Sunday 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.

Rabbi Eliezer Berland arrives for a court hearing at the Jerusalem Magistrate Court, on February 13, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

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.

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