Hila Gerstel: A Legal Career Defined by Integrity and Advocacy
Hila Gerstel, born in 1955, is an Israeli lawyer whose career has left an indelible mark on the country's legal landscape. She served as the State Comptroller for the Examination of the Claims System and the Representation of the State in Litigation from 2014 to 2016. Prior to her role as State Comptroller, she was a judge and the president of the Central District Court. Today, she works as a private mediator.
Hila Gerstel was born as Hila Fox in Herzliya in 1955 to parents who were Holocaust survivors and immigrated to Israel from Poland in 1946 aboard an immigrant ship. She attended a municipal high school in Herzliya. From 1973 to 1975, she served in the Israel Defense Forces. She graduated from the Faculty of Law at Tel Aviv University in 1978.
Between 1977 and 1979, she interned at the Tel Aviv District Court and the Ministry of Justice, ultimately obtaining her license to practice law. She worked as an associate lawyer for four years and later as an independent practitioner.
In 1990, Gerstel was appointed as a judge at the Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court. In 1996, she was appointed temporarily to the Tel Aviv District Court and, in 1997, she received a permanent appointment.
In 2000, Gerstel was appointed to head a committee to examine specialization and qualifications for entry into the Bar Association. In 2002, the committee, under her leadership, made recommendations, including extending the internship period, implementing two-stage examinations, completing a practical course, and changing the composition of the examination board, among other suggestions.
In 2010, the Ministry of Justice published a memorandum summarizing the key findings of the report, and in 2014, another memorandum was published that adopted some of its recommendations, specifically addressing changes in the examination format.
In 2006, Gerstel was appointed as Deputy President of the Magistrate's Court, where she served as the head of the Appeals Department. She also served as a member of the panel of judges alongside Judges Uzi Fogelman and Ilan Shiloh. Her name had been mentioned several times as a candidate for the Supreme Court. However, in 2004, she withdrew her candidacy for personal reasons.
In May 2007, Israel's Minister of Justice, Daniel Friedmann, asked her, on the recommendation of Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch, to establish the Central District Court and serve as its first president. The Central District Court began operating in Petah Tikva in September 2007, with Gerstel personally responsible for organizing and training its staff. In September 2012, the court moved to its permanent location in Lod.
On November 25, 2013, the Finder's Committee, headed by the Government Legal Advisor, Yehuda Weinstein, recommended that Gerstel be appointed as the State Comptroller for the Examination of the Claims System and the Representation of the State in Litigation. The government approved her appointment on December 22, 2013, and she assumed her role on April 1, 2014.
As the State Comptroller for the Claims System and State Representation in Litigation, Gerstel handled hundreds of cases. Some of the notable cases included the conduct of the Tel Aviv District Prosecutor Ruth David in the Ronel Fisher affair and the representation of the Ministry of Health and the Institute of Forensic Medicine by the State Attorney's Office in the case of Dr. Maya Forman. In the latter case, Gerstel clashed sharply with the Attorney General, Shai Nitzan, who argued that Gerstel had no authority to review the actions of a prosecutor acting on behalf of the Government Legal Advisor.
After prolonged clashes with the State Prosecution, Gerstel announced her resignation from the position on April 18, 2016, which took effect in July 2016. She cited her inability to be represented by a lawyer in her appearance before the Supreme Court and the Knesset's promotion of a bill stating that the state prosecution would not be subject to the oversight of the State Comptroller as reasons for her resignation.
Approximately six months after the end of her tenure as the State Comptroller, Gerstel stated that the State Prosecution was a corrupt entity, and its head, Shai Nitzan, was unfit to serve in his role.
Today, Gerstel works as a private mediator. In 2017, she served as a mediator in the defamation lawsuit brought by Sara Netanyahu against journalist Ben Caspit.
Gerstel is married to Reuven, the CEO of the Jewish Settlement Treasury, and they have two children.
In January 2016, her name came up as a candidate for the position of Government Legal Advisor. Despite clashes throughout the selection process, both with the State Prosecution and beforehand with the Government Legal Advisor's office, Gerstel was considered a prominent candidate for the role. However, in the end, the Finder's Committee recommended a single candidate – Avichai Mandelblit.
During the police investigation into Case 1270, suspicion arose that Nir Hefetz, from the Prime Minister's Office, offered Gerstel a deal through his media advisor, Eli Kamir, whereby she would be appointed if she committed to closing the case involving the Prime Minister's wife, Sara Netanyahu.
The case included allegations against her. Gerstel refused and reported this to Supreme Court Justice Esther Hayut. In January 2019, the State Prosecution decided to close the case against Eli Kamir, citing a lack of evidentiary foundation for prosecution.
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