A Daily news digest by Jasper van Santen

Brooklyn DA refuses to release details of Orthodox sex abuse suspects – guardian.co.uk

In News, Really?!? on April 26, 2012 at 20:22

Rabbi Baruch Lebovits

Charles Hynes’s refusal comes as New York judges ruled for a mistrial in the case of Baruch Lebovits (above)

Brooklyn DA refuses to release details of Orthodox sex abuse suspects 

The “cover up” of  child abuse in the Orthodox Community needs to end immediately. It is becoming apparent that they have  at least as much of a problem with it as the Roman Catholic Church has. 

Last month the Guardian reported that the DA was facing accusations that he has failed to tackle up the cover-up of abuse in Brooklyn’s Orthodox community – the largest Orthodox community in the world outside Israel. Rabbinic leaders are accused of hampering efforts to uncover abuse, and many victims face intimidation and threats to prevent them pressing charges.

The Guardian and the Jewish Forward paper had submitted freedom of information (FOI) requests for details of cases. But this week Hynes’s office informed the Forward that it was denying its request, because the close-knit nature of the Orthodox community meant disclosing the names of defendants would reveal the identities of the victims. The DA’s spokesman, Jerry Schmetterer, confirmed that the Guardian’s request would also be refused on the same grounds.

The statement refusing the FOI request marks the first admission by Hynes that suspected child abusers from the Orthodox Jewish community receive exceptional treatment.

Hynes’s policy clarification follows recent claims to have radically increased prosecutions through his Kol Tzedek outreach effort. Kol Tzedek, which features a victims’ hotline staffed by a culturally sensitive social worker, aims to encourage reporting of sexual assaults and to break the cover-up of child sex abuse by the Orthodox Jewish community.

The DA credits the initiative, which began in April 2009, with a surge in arrests. In January, the DA said the tally now stood at “over 90” arrests, a figure confirmed again this week by his spokesman.

Of the 38 cases closed by November last year, 23 had concluded in guilty pleas and six in trial convictions with nine dismissals and acquittals, Schmetterer said. There were 14 prison convictions. But at least nine of the arrests ascribed to Kol Tzedek were in fact made before April 2009.

The Guardian has learned of five: Stefan Colmer, extradited from Israel in 2008, Yona Weinberg, indicted in 2008, Emanuel Yegutkin, arrested in January 2009, Moshe Spitzer, arrested in March 2009, and Baruch Lebovits, whose landmark conviction was overturned this week and who was indicted in 2008. The DA’s spokesperson confirmed in writing last month that all five men were being counted as Kol Tzedek arrests.

The Jewish Week knows of a further four arrests inaccurately credited to Kol Tzedek: one convicted of attempting to kidnap an Hispanic girl, arrested in 2007; another in mental health facility and unfit to proceed, arrested 2008; a third who violated his probation and was resentenced in 2009, first convicted in 2002; and Yehuda Kolko, whose case in 2008 saw him plead guilty to misdemeanor child endangerment, not a sex crime. Kolko is currently being prosecuted for criminal contempt.

Schmetterer refused to answer questions from the Guardian. “I have nothing to say to you,” he said. “You have the (FOI) letter. I have nothing to add.”

The FOI response – set out in a letter signed by assistant district attorney Morgan Dennehy – appears to explain an apparent misinterpretation of a civil rights statute previously used by the DA to explain why case information was being withheld from public scrutiny.

Earlier responses from the DA’s office have cited New York Civil Rights Law 50B, which protects the privacy of sex crime victims. 50B prohibits the release of documents that could identify a victim. It does not, however, restrict the release of case files in which the victims’ names or other revealing information has been redacted, said Martin Guggenheim, professor of clinical law at NYU. “To my knowledge,” Guggenheim said, “the law permits the disclosure of reports so long as the public official does so in a manner that ensures that the identity of the victim cannot be obtained from the report.”

Hynes’s argument – that the “unique” circumstances in the Orthodox community prohibits release of any and all information, since to name the defendant is to name the victim – apparently explains his over-stringent response to 50B.

 

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