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20 Av 5765 - August 25, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Judge Hila Cohen Convicted of Conduct Unbecoming a Judge

by Yated Ne'eman Staff

A special court commissioned by the High Court convicted Judge Hila Cohen of the Haifa Magistrate Court of improper discharge of duty and conduct unbecoming a judge. She was then sentenced to a reprimand and a job transfer, although Judge Arad wanted to have her permanently removed from the bench.

As reported by News First Class, a website of investigative reporter Yoav Yitzhak, Hila Cohen was appointed to the Haifa Magistrate Court in 2002. At first she served as a small-claims judge and later as a judge for local matters.

A legal complaint, filed against Judge Cohen five months ago on 31 March by Justice Minister Tzippi Livni, describes two incidents in which Judge Cohen arrived late for cases she was scheduled to hear. Although the litigants had left the courtroom before she arrived, Judge Cohen subsequently arranged transcripts to give the impression that a hearing had been held before her with the litigants in attendance. When she finished preparing the transcripts and the decisions, she tore up written requests that the litigants had left behind to postpone the hearing, and threw them into the trash.

"The defendant did all this in order to conceal and cover up her frequent lateness and absences from the courtroom on days and times when hearings were scheduled," reads the complaint.

According to the ruling, "On June 19, 2005 we decided to charge Judge Hila Cohen with improper discharge of her duty in violation of Regulation 18a(1) of the Court Law and with conducting herself in a manner unbecoming her status as a judge in Israel in violation of Regulation 18a(2) of the Courts Law. The grounds for the complaint are described in detail in the ruling. In summary, it was proven to the special court that while sitting on the bench over the course of two days of hearings, Judge Cohen produced 14 transcripts and decisions that did not properly reflect the events that took place in the courtroom during the actual hearings conducted before her."

The special court assessed Yaakov Geva's request for a hearing delay in one of the incidents. Geva's hearing was originally scheduled for 9:00 a.m., but by 10:10 a.m. Judge Cohen had still not arrived. Unable to wait any longer, Geva filed a written request for a postponement of the hearing and left, but when Judge Cohen finally arrived she listed in the transcripts that Geva was present at the hearing and that verbal exchanges even took place between the two litigants. Her decision for that day did not include any mention of the postponement request, her own tardiness or Geva's inability to wait any longer.

In the ruling Judge Cheshin writes, "An individual reading the transcripts can arrive at only one conclusion: the defendants and their representatives were present during the courtroom hearings and even made remarks and requests. Yet nobody denies that the defendants and their attorneys were not in the courtroom when the transcripts were written. Therefore the transcripts were misleading, transcripts that do not properly reflect, as they should, what was said and what took place in the hearings held before Judge Cohen. Furthermore, Judge Cohen tore up and destroyed requests for hearing postponements left behind by litigants before they left the courthouse, thereby preventing the requests from being documented in the court files."

Judge Cohen admitted to most of the facts listed in the complaint but claimed they were not done to hide her lateness but were innocent errors and not intended to conceal the litigants' absence from the hearings. She also claimed that the complaints against her were started by workers at the City of Haifa's Justice Department acting in collusion against her due to her desire to alter practices at the Court for Local Matters.

"Tearing up requests and throwing the pieces into the trash is a serious lapse in Judge Cohen's conduct and we note that we have never heard of this type of conduct by a judge," writes Judge Cheshin in the ruling. However Judge Cheshin did not determine that her actions were designed to cover up arriving late at hearings and therefore did not find it necessary to have her stripped of her judicial powers.

Judge M. Arad, however, writes, "At the foundation of being a judge are personal integrity and honesty. Without these traits a person cannot be a judge (see "Shofet Bachevrah Democratit" by Aharon Barak, 2004, p. 409). The opinion I wrote describes the judge's actions in detail. These acts show that the judge intentionally prepared, in 14 cases, false transcripts and destroyed requests by the defendants in order to prevent the documentation of her many late arrivals at the courthouse. Therefore, in my opinion, the appropriate punishment for the inappropriate conduct of the judge is to remove her from her post."


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