by Larry Cohler-Esses (Jewish Week)
September 10, 2008
Citing the statute of limitations, a federal judge last week threw out civil suits filed by two men who charged a Brooklyn rabbi had molested them as children.
Rabbi Yehuda Kolko, who was convicted last April of child endangerment — a misdemeanor — and Yeshiva Torah Temimah, the school for which he worked, cannot be held liable for the alleged abuse of the two men, ruled Judge Sandra Townes last Friday.
The ruling still leaves three others who allege Rabbi Kolko molested them as children with live civil suits against him and Torah Temimah, including two boys, now aged 10 and 9. They remain within the statute of limitation, and the father of one of the boys said Tuesday he planned to go forward with his case.
"We have to go to court," said the father, who The Jewish Week is not identifying to protect his son's privacy. "I feel the criminal side was a joke."
Last April, in a controversial plea bargain, Rabbi Kolko pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor charges of child endangerment and was sentenced to three years' probation. As part of the plea bargain, Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes dropped felony charges of sexual molestation against Rabbi Kolko, who was alleged to have repeatedly touched two Torah Temimah first-graders in their sexual areas. Rabbi Kolko, 62, made no admission of sexual wrongdoing and was not required to register as a sex offender.
Hynes said then that he dropped the charges because the parents of the two children did not want them to have to testify — a claim the father pursuing the civil case refuted at the time. This week, the father said his young son would take the stand in the civil case, if asked.
Meanwhile, the lawyer for a 23-year-old man who recently filed suit against another rabbi said the Kolko ruling would not affect his case, though his client, too, was past the statute of limitations for his alleged molestation, said to have occurred when he was 8.
"Our case proceeds on a much different basis," said Elliot Pasik, who represents Joel Engelman in his suit against Rabbi Avrohom Reichman, a rabbi of the Satmar chasidic sect in Brooklyn. Engelman is also suing the United Talmudical Academy, the Williamsburg school where Reichman teaches.
Pasik noted that Engelman's suit focuses not on the sexual molestation alleged to have occurred 15 years ago, but on Reichman's and the yeshiva's alleged violation of an agreement he says they made with Engelman this spring. Under the verbal agreement that Engelman claims to have reached with the yeshiva, the school was to dismiss Rabbi Reichman in exchange for Engelman not taking legal action.
Rabbi Reichman did, in fact, leave the school last April after Engelman and others say Engelman confronted him about his past abuse. Engelman submitted to the court a letter he wrote to Rabbi Reichman then promising not to take legal action if he resigned his position. But Rabbi Reichman returned to working with children at a Satmar-run camp this summer, and there were reports this week from parents with children at UTA that he is back teaching at the school.
Engelman claims the yeshiva fraudulently sought to divert him from taking legal action until the statute of limitation had passed on criminal prosecution. Under New York State law, that occurred on June 24, the date of Engelman's 23rd birthday. The school has yet to respond to the suit and did not return several calls left for it about the suit last week.
It remains to be seen whether a judge will permit Engelman's case to go forward under this theory. The statute of limitations has already run out for Engelman to sue for the alleged 15-year-old acts themselves.
State Sen. Tom Duane (D-Greenwich Village), sponsor of one of several bills that would extend the state's statute of limitation for child sex abuse, said last week's Kolko ruling highlights a problem calling out for a remedy.
"Often, child victims of abuse by people in positions of authority are not able to remember or realize what happened because of the trauma," he said. By the time they are old enough to process what happened and act, "Victims do not have access to justice," he said.