Adv. Iris Niv-Sabag is one of Israel's leading white collar crime defense attorneys. In a wide ranging interview, she tells "Globes" about her childhood, why she chose to study law and how she became a defense attorney, and some of her highest profile cases in which she has represented former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and is currently representing Yediot Ahronot publisher Arnon Mozes in Case 2000.
"I always had a desire to be curious, to piece together puzzles and a love of detectives. I loved Agatha Christie movies, to seek out mysteries and to solve riddles. There was also a side of me that sought justice and social injustice that involved me. There was once a girl in the class that everybody decided to ignore, so I immediately sprung to her defense. There was a yearning for social justice inside me, for equal rights and matters related to human rights. And in law there was also something, which tempted me about the theatrical aspect of court appearances."
"When I was hesitating over what to study, the idea of studying law entered my mind. I went with the intuition, a sort of gut feeling that it was a choice that was more colorful, more alive than other things that I was thinking about."
"There are those who always knew that they wanted to be lawyers. I didn't always know. I even grew up watching the TV series LA Law but I didn't say to myself that's what I want to be. I went to study law after making a well-considered choice at a later stage, because I felt it would be right for me, when I explored what would suit my personality.
"I've been with Uri since I was 18, I met him in a bar. It was funny because we began talking and we found out that we had already met once at some French tournament that he had been in charge of arranging."
"He was from Ramat Hasharon and had come by chance to a bar in Rishon Lezion that I had gone to with my girl friends. He was almost at the end of pilots' course and I was an officer in the army - and we've been together since then. For my part, it's all very nerdy."
"From the moment I chose law, I knew that I would go in the direction of criminal law. It attracted me more than all the other fields. I didn't see myself dealing with contracts and matters that were more technical. I knew that when I practiced I wanted litigation, appearing in court, conducting cross examinations, unraveling mysteries and investigating."
"After studying, I agreed a clerkship with the State Prosecutor's office and then a friend that was working with Adv. Dan Sheinman said come along for an interview, you'll find it interesting. So I went, and it was amazing because Dan already told me during the first interview 'it would suit you more to be a defense attorney' and he opened the door for me to the world of defense advocacy. So I got onto the path that fit me, largely due to him, because I decided to forego the clerkship at the State Attorney's office and go with a clerkship in his firm"
"When you finish studying at university, then it's taken for granted that if you want to go for criminal law, then you go to the State Attorney's office because that's where the fighters are battling for justice. Dan changed for me in a moment that idea by opening the window to the world of defense advocacy, where there are also people fighting for justice. Life is much more complicated than the saying that only one side is fighting for justice and trying to get to the truth. It's so right when they say that 'what you see from one side, you don't see from the other side.' The defense attorney is a public servant no less than the prosecution attorney. Sorting out what is the truth also applies to the defense lawyer, no less than to the prosecution side. In many white collar crime trials the struggle is about the 'zoom'."
"Many times, the police during their investigation and the State Attorney zoom-in on a specific theory on which they have built their case, and then our struggle as the defense attorneys is to zoom-out. To see things in a broader and more complicated picture and the overall circumstances. For example, in securities fraud offenses, reporting offenses, or offenses by directors, the hard work is almost never in the disputation. The intent, the interpretation, the question of whether the act was in good faith or not, that is the genuine struggle - that is the 'zoom out.' That is what makes the profession fascinating, because ultimately in the soft facts there is more room to present a fuller picture and more complete narrative."
"A defense attorney is not a mercenary for hire. It is a public role and a major part of the mechanism of the social justice endeavor."
Dan is first of all a good person. He is a refined person who is super-sensitive and caring. Despite the gap in ages between us, I feel that I am a very good friend of his. I've learned so much from him over the years and I'm still learning."
He has pushed me forward and paved the way for Navit (Navit Negev, the third partner at the Sheinman Negev Niv Law Office) and me, opened the door for us and has been the best professional mentor that I could have asked for. I don't think that there are many defense attorneys of Dan's stature that saw many years ahead before they planned to retire, the need for continuity of the firm - and he built us up to continue on his path, when we were first starting out at his firm. So when he decided to retire, the firm continued with the same DNA that there has been since he founded it.
It was important for Dan that we should succeed. I remember an incident that occurred when the Weinroth case ended (the late Jacob Weinroth who was the country's most senior defense lawyer and was put on trial for bribery and other offenses because of his behavior with the tax assessor and was fully acquitted). At the same time Navit was conducting the 'Rishontours' case of former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, and I led the Weinroth case, and it was largely down to Dan who pushed me to take up the reins. I questioned the witnesses and conducted the summing up.
When the much sought after acquittal was received, which was a very, very exciting event, Dan physically pushed me forward in front of the cameras so that I would enjoy the credit for the hard work. He simply shoved me in the back and I think that that push was very symbolic, it was a physical push but also a conceptual push that reflects the fact that he was always promoting us and giving us the stage and throughout the years built us up to continue on his path."
Navit and I
"Navit and I have worked together since I joined the firm more than 22 years ago. Usually in white collar criminal law the model is a one man show, and Navit and I did not know if and how a 'two head' model would work. But after 12 years such a model does work and works superbly. We are in a situation that each one of us has a broad enough field in which to work. In most cases we do not manage the cases together, and only in special circumstances are there certain cases in which we decide to work on them together."
"We find that there are large and significant advantages in this partnership between us. The ability to brainstorm on issues that arise, the readiness to divide, share or receive support, or the desire to consult with and receive input from each other - enhance the work.
Despite the differences between us, after so many years that we have worked together, we sometimes find ourselves saying exactly the same thing, without coordinating our positions, sometimes even the same words, or we think similarly and that's an amazing thing and especially symbiotic. In my experience there is huge added value in the partnership with Navit that others in the field don't have."
"From my point of view, Navit is one of the most brilliant lawyers, with the best professional qualities, and it is a big privilege and pleasure to be her partner. The values to which we work are the heritage of years and we keep to them. The most beautiful thing that has happened is that though Dan has left the stage, the firm works with the same professional, thorough, creative and preserved methodology and enjoys his reputation."
"Navit and I represented Olmert in the appeal to the Holyland affair. There is something that I love about appeals. The challenge makes it interesting for me and gives me satisfaction. There is also an element of figuring out the failures in the verdict and look at how they put together the evidential puzzle and where they went wrong. In the Holyland affair there was the rhetoric of the judge who says 'I don't believe the State's witness, I'm not taking into account the evidence of the State's witness (the late Shmuel Dankner) and he won't be a brick in the wall for the conviction,' among other things because he had died before Olmert's lawyers had an opportunity to cross examine him."
"But when I read the verdict, I saw that they had used the evidence of the State's witness as a basis for all the assumptions for the conviction. That was what was rooted in its thinking and led to the mistaken conclusions that were drawn. It was hugely satisfying to analyze the logic of the story and present another logic that led ultimately to a significant ruling by the Supreme Court, that if the cup of evidence is not full, then there must be an acquittal. It's an enormous feeling that they accepted the arguments and corrected the injustice that was done to Olmert."
"We are advocating examining the event in light of its specific and individual circumstances. This requires a broad examination of the background, circumstances, relationships, and meticulous examination of the mosaic of evidence. The answer as to whether an offense has been committed can be gleaned from the full totality of the circumstances."
"As to the "Yediot Ahronot" publisher Arnon (Noni) Mozes (indicted on Case 2000 subject to a hearing, for offering a bribe and Netanyahu is indicted in the case, subject to a hearing, for fraud and breach of trust. According to the charge sheet's allegations, the two men spoke about carrying out the 'deal' as part of which the prime minister would bring about the restriction in circulation of the rival newspaper 'Israel Hayom' in exchange for gaining more sympathetic coverage in the Yediot media group. We claim that the interpretation of the conversation that took place between Netanyahu and Mozes was erroneous and does not match the factual and normative picture and that the full evidence of the reality and the complex conversation that took place between the two, as we will present in the hearing, not only does not support a criminal interpretation but stands in contradiction to such interpretation."
"Mozes has strong legal and factual arguments and we believe that after the hearing procedure, the case against him will be closed and it will become clear that he did not commit criminal offenses. As a rule, relations between the media and public figures are a foundation stone of a democratic country. Any attempt to paint such complex and complicated relations, such as they are, in criminal colors - is problematic and dangerous."
"The moment that there is often and frequent use of this institution, as we see today in the major investigations that are in the media, then it is also devalued. You have to remember that State's witnesses are people that have committed offenses themselves. When you take this concept of a State's witness and put it into white collar crime cases in which the issue is more one of interpretation and whether there was good faith or nor then there is the overall question of whether a State's witness is necessary in this situation."
"Today we are seeing more and more that there are evidential difficulties in white collar crime cases where the central issue is evidential interpretation, recruiting State's witnesses, and I think that this trend is dangerous."
Seizures and forfeitures
"The strict approach that seeks to come down heavily financially through seizures and forfeitures of the property of suspects and the accused, in addition to the damage to a person undergoing the very criminal process, weighs down in a disproportionate way on the circumstances of the offense and the purpose of this tool."
"In my estimation, the approach that sees forfeiture as part of the punishment mechanism is already not correct. The Supreme Court has already restrained and is restraining this extreme position - both in ruling that the purpose of the forfeiture tool is not punitive as well as in forfeiture decisions in essence. In my estimation, this trend of restraint will be added to and elaborated on. There is a trend towards softening because they have understood the danger in Draconian and sweeping seizures."
We must be wary about seeing everything as corrupt, without making distinctions even on borderline matters. Criminal law must be kept for the most significant acts. We must understand that regarding public figures the question arises even if the act is not normative - if it comes within the purview of the criminal law or not, and where the line passes between criminal law and disciplinary or ethical proceedings or behavior that is not moral but has not crossed the line of disciplinary proceedings and certainly not criminal law."
"These questions are not only for lawyers but also questions of morality and philosophy and broad public questions. In the field in which I am engaged, when we talk about white collar offenses such as fraud and breach of trust or security fraud offenses - which are vague offenses that possess an open structure, the dilemmas and questions of the limits of the offense are brought up for discussions all the time."
"The moment that a criminal investigation is also opened, then the suspects are stuck with the smell of corruption and when ultimately, in many cases, the behavior for which they are being investigated and put on trial is perhaps not proper and perhaps really from our viewpoint as the public, we would not want to see our leaders behaving like that, but it is not corrupt and it is not criminal."
"Many times the answer to the question - if the behavior of publicly elected representatives who are being investigated and put on trial for the sake of it, has reached the required criminal significance in order to pass over the ethical line and spill over to the area of criminality - the answer is no. I raise this as a question, because the normative questions are frequently structured as how is it proper that a public representative will behave and these have turned into the questions that star in the criminal arena, and that is not right. I condemn corruption and I do not condemn about corruption, but I think that not everything, which is seen as corruption in the eyes of the public and is revealed as part of the picture, is really corruption."
"Many times the inclination of the heart or the mood in the country is to convict without knowing the facts. There is a culture in the country that is terribly quick to judge. I strive not to be so extremely judgmental - to cast doubt, to examine, to doubt what seems on the surface to be clear."
Love for the work
I very much love my work, I have a passion for doing it, figuring things out, understanding, and I love it that there are no two cases that resemble each other, and one day you are representing a doctor and on another day a lawyer, businessperson, director, CFO and more. The topics and the stories change, the companies change. I deal with human stories and the complexity of humanity and that adds a lot of interest and passion to the endeavor. I need this passion and I work with passion."
Personal: Iris Niv Sabag, 46, born in Rishon Lezion and lives in the Ramat Chen neighborhood of Ramat Gan. Married to Uri, reserve Israel Air Force pilot, formerly worked in high-tech and currently a partner in Afik, for consultancy and planning in the field of elevators, and mother to three daughters.
Professional: Together with Adv. Navit Negev heads the Sheinman-Negev-Niv law firm, which was founded by Adv. Dan Sheinman one of Israel's most senior and longest-serving defense attorneys. Niv Sabag and her partner were nurtured by Sheinman and inherited the firm from him. The two women are today among the leading white collar crime case defense lawyers in Israel and over the years both together and individually have achieved a wide range of impressive acquittals in complex cases.
Economic cases include: Represents Nachum Weinberg, Yair Fudim and Ilan Sheva (Bikurey sadeh) in investigations by the Israel securities Authority; and Hadar Oshrat in the Goldman-Maor affair; represented Guy Foran in the Pixel affair; Gad Zeevi in the Malam affair and the Bezeq affair (which ended with acquittal), Ilik Rozanski in the Delek Real Estate affair; Shuki Tzoller in the DS Apax affair; Eyal Hadad in the Itamar Medical affair; and Itay Strum in the IDB shares manipulation affair.
Antitrust cases include: Representing the owners of Berman's bakery and the Davidovich bakery owner in the bread cartel affair; and representing the Cooper brothers in their petition to the Supreme Court 'trimming affair.'
Public cases include: representing "Yediot Ahronot" publisher Arnon (Noni) Mozes in Case 2000 (the Netanyahu-Mozes affair); Shay Brosh in Case 3000 (the submarines affair); and Yehuda Elimelech in the Shikun U'Binui affair. Represented former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in his appeal to the Supreme Court in the Holyland case (which ended in his acquittal from the indictment in the first and main case); Adv. Roy Bar in the Rishon Lezion and Rehovot affair in criminal proceedings and in disciplinary proceedings; and Police Commissioner (retired) Shlomo Aharonishky before the Zeiler Committee.
She led the representation for the late Adv. Jacob Weinroth in the Weinroth-Vita affair, which ended in acquittal; represented Ezra Dush in the Shlomi Lachiani case; Dani Koren in the car parks affair trial; and Jewish Agency Chairman Isaac Herzog, former Chairman of the Labor party, the police investigation against him.
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on June 27, 2019
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