Disorder in the court: Rise in justified complaints against Israeli judges

The annual report of the ombudsman for judges shows an increase in justified complaints resulting in censure of judges.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

The annual review of complaints filed against judges in the Israeli court system released Wednesday showed an increase in the number of complaints with almost one in 10 resulting in the censure of the presiding judge.

The investigation carried out by retired Supreme Court Justice Uri Shoham, who heads the office of the Ombudsman for Judges, looked at the 965 complaints filed in 2019 against the behavior of judges at all levels of the justice system in Israel.

The report showed that decisions were made in 931 complaints, and that of the total complaints submitted to the commission 68 were found to be justified, comprising 13 percent of all complaints. In those cases 48 resulted in reprimands to the presiding judge and the remainder prompted a comment to the judge – one of whom is a sitting Supreme Court justice.

There were sixty more complaints than in the previous year, and the number of justified complaints was also up seven percent from 2018.

Just over a third of the justified complaints had to do with excessive length of proceedings and delays in issuing decisions and judgments, up nine percent compared to 2018. While about a quarter of the justified complaints were about deficiencies in the administration of justice, there was an eight percent decrease in the number of complaints about the misconduct of a judge.

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Shoham’s report cited some salient examples of judges’ conduct that were found to be improper and resulted in reprimands. In one case, a justice of the peace called a lawyer who was representing her son “a tyrant in the market” and even asked the son if he “gave his mother her pills that morning.”

In another case, a labor court judge told a lawyer that if they didn’t understand the proceedings, “maybe the good sir needs a [psychiatric] assessment.”

Another case the report emphasized was a family court judge who likened the rule of the Supreme Court to a “multi-casualty terror attack.”

Judge Shoham wrote that anyone who hears such a statement may lose faith in the court and fear that “the game is fixed.” He added that such a statement could be construed as a disregard for the dignity of Supreme Court justices.

Problematic statements were also found in the rabbinical courts in which an adjudicator called a rabbi appointed by the tribunal to serve as a guide for a litigant a “liar” and a “brat.”

While 40 percent of the justified complaints dealt with magistrates’ courts, there was a 42 percent increase in complaints about judges in family courts, 184 complaints compared to 130 complaints in 2018.

One positive aspect of the report was it found a reduction in the average length of time to deal with a complaint, down from 83 days to only 59.