Confronting a Rabbi and a Prosecutor

Thomson Reuters News
February 14, 2012

A case before the New York's highest court, the Court of Appeals, on Tuesday, has all the elements of a lengthy magazine piece, if not an eerie novel: decades-old charges of sexual abuse, an escape to Israel, a protracted battle over secret government documents.

The origins of the present case date to the mid-1980s, when an ulta-Orthodox Jewish rabbi named Avrohom Mondrowitz was accused of abusing dozens of young children; he fled to Israel before his indictment in absentia on 14 counts, including five counts of sodomy, according to The Jewish Week.

Since the late 1990s, lawyer and author Michael Lesher has been fighting to get documents from the Brooklyn District Attorney's office concerning U.S. efforts to extradite Mondrowitz from Israel. Lesher believes that the D.A.'s office may have dragged its feet on an extradition request, caving from pressure from the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, according to The Jewish Week and the Jewish Daily Forward.

"At stake in this case is not only whether or not Lesher - and the public - will get to learn more about the actions of the Brooklyn DA, Charles Hynes, other U.S. and Israeli government agencies and the Orthodox community in the Mondrowitz case, but the effectiveness of New York State's Freedom of Information laws," writes The Jewish Week.

DA Hynes says he doesn't want to release any of the information because it could jeopardize future prosecution of Mondrowitz (an Israeli court ruled in 2010 that Mondrowitz couldn't be extradited), and jeopardize the alleged abuse victims.

A trial court judge sided with Lesher, saying Hynes should release the relevant information to the publicwith some redactions, but an intermediate appeals court sided with Hynes. Lesher told the Forward that if he wins at the top New York court, he believes it could have a "ripple effect," forcing federal agencies to turn over information on the case, too.