An Ethics Committee of the Israel Bar Association is opening an investigation into attorney Eliad Shraga for demanding what are described as excessive fees totaling 1.5 million shekels (~$396,000) from a client.
The case has taken on national interest as Shraga is the founder and chairman of the Movement for Quality Government in Israel, one of the key groups leading the anti-judicial reform protests. The group has built a reputation as a watchdog exposing government corruption.
Shraga wanted a gag order placed on the case, according to the Channel 12 exposé that aired on Monday. “He claimed that his fee agreement was a trade secret,” said the client’s new attorney, Asnat Harkabi Levi.
“It was clear to [Shraga] that the story would crack the image that he had cultivated for years,” Channel 12 noted.
The client, identified as “Shin,” balked at paying what she considered the exorbitant sum, which Shraga demanded in return for representing her in a case involving the contested will of her deceased brother, a disabled IDF veteran. The brother had left his entire fortune to Shin, who had taken care of him over the years. However, the will was contested by the deceased’s nephews.
At the conclusion of the case, and when the client refused to pay, Shraga turned to arbitration. The arbitrator, attorney Shoshana Londner, sharply criticized Shraga’s behavior.
Suggesting he had taken advantage of his client’s ignorance and simple working background, she said, “There is a considerable gap between the plaintiff, who is one of the most senior attorneys in Israel, and the defendant.
“It would have been appropriate for the plaintiff [Shraga] to add an explicit clause in the agreement, since this is an unusual demand for the payment of an unusual fee,” Londner added.
Londner also criticized Shraga for forcing his client to hire his services if she wanted to purchase real estate with the estate’s funds. Londner found that Shraga did so to increase his fees and not for the benefit of the client, according to a follow-up report by Israeli news site Walla.
Shraga was ultimately awarded 600,000 shekels (~$158,000) of the 1.5 million he demanded.
Shraga’s questionable behavior in court also came out in the report. “He said to me all the time, ‘You’re a vixen. You’re a vixen.’ He didn’t speak nicely. He spoke to me disdainfully. I was very hurt by him,” Shin told Channel 12.
Shin’s attorney, Harkabi Levi, said, “He behaved terribly. He cursed. He insulted. He told me, ‘Who are you, anyway? What do you know? You’re from the Carmel Market. You’re not an attorney, [you’re] lacking I.Q.’ He banged on the table really hard in anger: ‘This is mine. This is mine. … Nothing is due to you. Zero is what you deserve. Zero. It’s all mine.'”
The Israel Bar Association stated, “Given the seriousness of the things described in the media regarding attorney Eliad Shraga, the Ethics Committee of the Tel Aviv District will open an investigation.”
Shraga did not interview for the report but provided the following statement to Channel 12:
“We’re talking about a client who received from the office legal services and legal representation at countless hearings, and hundreds of hours of work for six years running, without paying one cent in fees, and after we won a ruling that yielded her millions of shekels, she tried to slip away from paying the fees that she was obligated to as per the agreement.”
Police are reportedly gathering material for the opening of a separate criminal investigation against Shraga regarding conflicts of interest in connection with his nonprofit group, according to Israeli journalist Yehoshua Meiri.
Meiri filed a defense this week after Shraga hit him with a defamation suit over the allegations. “[W]e should not be surprised at this way of conduct, since for years he has been pretending to be the defender of the rule of law and the gatekeeper on his own behalf of Israeli democracy,” Meiri’s attorneys said of Shraga in their defense statement.
“He manages his absolute control for his own personal benefit, as he harnesses the association and its resources for the purpose of enriching his private pocket and promoting personal interests,” they added.