Court Finds No Juror Misconduct in Brooklyn Rabbi Case

By Jessica Dye (Reuters)
August 7, 2012

A New York judge found no evidence of juror misconduct during a trial in which a Brooklyn rabbi was acquitted of violating an order barring him from interacting with a young boy who had accused him of sexual molestation.

The Brooklyn district attorney's office said that on the final day of the four-day trial, the mother of juror No. 6 was spotted having a "spirited conversation" with defendant Joel Kolko outside the courtroom.

However, Kings County Criminal Judge Michael Gerstein held in a July 30 order that he saw no basis for questioning the juror and her mother about possible misconduct.

"(T)he behavior of Juror No. 6's mother may easily be characterized as unusual," Gerstein wrote. "But there has been no showing, let alone a colorable showing, that the mother's conduct impugned the integrity of the trial process."

The trial is one of several high-profile cases involving the Orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn, which has been roiled by allegations that religious leaders have covered up sex abuse against children. Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes has been accused in some media reports of helping community leaders cover up high-profile accusations. Defending his office's actions, Hynes has said secrecy may be necessary in some cases to help shield victims from harassment and intimidation.

In 2007 Kolko, a rabbi and teacher at Yeshiva Torah Temimah in Brooklyn, was indicted for sexually abusing a former first-grade student. In 2008, he pleaded guilty to two counts of endangering the welfare of a child and was sentenced to three years' probation.

He also was ordered to refrain from contacting the child.

In 2010, Kolko was rearrested after prosecutors accused him of violating the protective order on two separate occasions.

A jury acquitted Kolko on June 26 after just 10 minutes of deliberations.

The following day, the Brooklyn district attorney's office sent the court a letter citing possible juror misconduct.

NO EVIDENCE

The letter said that before summations, a self-described advocate for sex abuse victims, witnessed juror No. 6's mother having a "spirited conversation" with Kolko outside the courtroom.

The witness, Ben Hirsch, an advocate for sex abuse victims in the Orthodox Jewish community, said he did not overhear the conversation, according to the letter sent by the DA's office to the court.

The DA's office asked the court to bring juror No. 6 and her mother back for a hearing to determine if misconduct had occurred.

Gerstein said there was no indication that something improper had taken place, or that juror No. 6's mother influenced deliberations.

"There is no evidence whatsoever that Juror No. 6 violated her oath in any way," he wrote.

The DA's office declined to comment. A lawyer for Kolko, an elementary school teacher at Yeshiva Torah Temimah in Brooklyn, was not immediately available for comment.

The case is People v. Kolko, New York State Supreme Court, Kings Country, No. 2010-92455.

For the DA: Elizabeth Doerfler and Allegra Santomauro.

For Kolko: Jeffrey Schwartz.