Disciplinary investigations have been launched against Tel Aviv Magistrates' Court Judge Ronit Poznanski-Katz and the attorney representing the Israel Securities Authority (ISA), Eran Shacham-Shavit, after an exchange of text messages between the two raised suspicions they were coordinating the remand extensions of suspects in the Bezeq affair, also known as Case 4000.
An ISA representative said in court Monday morning that Poznanski-Katz's conduct will be investigated by the Ombudsman for Complaints against Judges, while Shacham-Shavit's actions will be investigated by the Civil Service Commission.
Attorney Oded Svorai, who represents Shacham-Shavit, said his client has decided to take a leave of absence until the end of the probe in the Civil Service Commission.
"Attorney Shacham-Shavit is a professional, respectable and principled lawyer, who does his work faithfully and with complete devotion. His entire conduct vis-à-vis Judge Poznanski-Katz has been professional and within the acceptable and legitimate framework of an investigative authority's conduct in relation to remand extension judges, which is unlike the conduct in relation to judges in the trial itself," Svorai said.
"Contrary to the erroneous impression created due to the report last night, attorney Shacham-Shavit had updated the judge, whose moderate position on the suspects' detainment period—which she expressed in court hearings—gained favor with the special investigations team. He also said to the judge he was happy to tell her that in a few minutes she would receive a message from his colleagues at the special investigations team—investigators from Lahav 433—that they have decided to release two of the suspects," Svorai went on to explain.
"As for the request to extend the remand of two additional suspects, attorney Shacham-Shavit updated the judge that his colleagues are expected to request a remand extension of three days, however he, as a representative of the Israel Securities Authority, believes two days are enough."
Channel 10 News revealed on Sunday night the texts Poznanski-Katz and Shacham-Shavit exchanged, in which the lawyer is seen telling the judge that the prosecution will seek an extension of remand for Bezeq shareholder Shaul Elovitch, his wife Iris and son Or, the latter of which was a member in Bezeq's board of directors, Bezeq Strategy and Business Development Manager Amikam Shorer and Bezeq CEO Stella Handler, ahead of Monday's hearing on the issue, and seemingly instructing her how many days to keep them in custody.
ISA Chair Anat Guetta convened the ISA investigators for a meeting following the incident.
Guetta claimed that it isn't representative of the values of the ISA, but stressed that, while unusual, it is a serious incident that must not repeat.
"It must not happen, but it happened. The matter is currently under review. And we, of course, will also draw the necessary conclusions," she said.
She concluded by noting that the incident "in no way undermines the excellent investigation carried out by our Investigators in the Bezeq affair and the findings obtained within it."
Judge, investigator claim no prior acquaintance
According to Shacham-Shavit's testimony, provided to the Civil Service Commission in Jerusalem, he has been accompanying the Bezeq investigation from its earliest stages at the ISA—before police became involved—and acted as point-man for search warrant and remand requests.
He further said he had submitted most of the aforementioned requests to arrests judge Poznanski-Katz, and that the two had no prior acquaintance.
The first WhatsApp correspondence, Shacham-Shavit claimed, took place June 21, 2017, since the judge had no assistants with which to communicate on court dates and placements.
All of their correspondence, he added—save for the last one made public by Channel 10 News—was of a strictly logistical nature. When the first incarnation of the Bezeq investigation concluded, the case was handed over to the State Attorney's Office and the matter was concluded.
Several months ago, however, new information came to light that justified continuing the investigation in new directions. The Securities Authority and Lahav 433 argued about the further conducting of the investigation, and Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit decided to create a joint investigative team comprised of personnel from both units—thereby getting Case 4000 started.
Since Judge Poznanski-Katz was already familiar with the investigation's minutiae from the previous round, the court appointed her as the arrests judge presiding over the case even though she had already went on a sabbatical and was technically on vacation.
This necessitated she arrive at court only for the Case 4000 hearings, without any assistants to avail herself of. Since Shacham-Shavit had experience in the previous Bezeq case, meanwhile, he was tasked with acting as liaison between the court and the special investigative team.
Shacham-Shavit and Judge Poznanski-Katz once again conducted logistical correspondences on Case 4000. During the remand hearings, some of which took place with only representatives from the investigation and the judge in her chambers, the judge severely criticized the remand requests, claiming the team asked for too many days and did not differentiate enough between suspects.
ISA attorney Shacham-Shavit said he was of the same mind as the judge, and voiced the same positions in internal investigation team discussions.
A hearing for the investigation team before the judge was set for this past Sunday, and a time was set for it. The correspondence published by Channel 10 began then, and lasted the entire day.
According to the Securities Authority, Shacham-Shavit's request for her to "act surprised" had more to do with the Poznanski-Katz's conduct vis-à-vis police investigators and not the suspects themselves.
'Be careful with your words and actions'
In the wake of the revelations, Supreme Court Chief Justice Esther Hayut and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked sent an urgent request to the Ombudsman for Complaints against Judges, asking him to examine and clarify the matter.
"The Ombudsman has been asked to handle the request without delay, and I have no doubt he will," Hayut wrote Monday in a letter to judges and registrars across the country, noting that upon the completion of the Ombudsman's probe, she could determine what steps should be taken against Poznanski-Katz.
"The courts system is in the eye of the storm, not to its benefit, due to an incident reported yesterday in the media, which concerns the conduct of a Magistrates' Court judge from Tel Aviv who heard the remand extension requests in the affair dubbed Case 4000," Hayut wrote.
"On this morning, which is not easy to any of us, I seek to give you my support and express to you my great appreciation for your hard, devoted work," she went on to say.
"We judges and registrars are responsible for one another in all of our actions. Therefore, please be careful in your words and conduct. And above all, do not despair. We will continue to do our job with professionalism and with faith, and we will continue doing everything possible to maintain the public's trust in our court system, which numbers over 700 honest senior judges and registers who invest all of their energy and resources in doing their jobs on all days of the year."
Meanwhile, Poznanski-Katz asked to step aside from the case, as the president of the Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court ordered her to be replaced as the judge overseeing it, appointing Judge Alaa Masarwa in her place.
Tova Tzimuki, Itamar Eichner and Itay Blumenthal contributed to this story.