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“If the Court of Appeals reverses [the lower court’s decision] and requires disclosure, my guess is it might serve as a message to other jurisdictions,” Freeman said.
The New York Civil Liberties Union has filed an amicus curiae, or friend of the court, brief in January in support of Lesher. In it the group argues against what it sees an as overly expansive application of civil rights laws to block the release of legitimate public information.
The group argues in court papers that the D.A. is obligated under state freedom of information laws to redact details that might identify victims and release the documents to Lesher.
A Kings County Supreme Court judge agreed with such a position when it found, in May 2009, that Hynes’s office had to disclose correspondence with federal agencies that regarded Mondrowitz “subject to redactions.”
Hynes appealed that decision, and won, in January 2011.
While those court cases were being fought, Hynes and federal agencies in the United States were locked in a battle with Israeli authorities over Mondrowitz’s extradition.
Hynes was unable to extradite Mondrowitz during the 1990s because treaties between the United States and Israel did not cover the sex crimes of which Mondrowitz was accused. A 1985 attempt to extradite Mondrowitz failed for similar reasons.
When the two countries amended their extradition treaty in 2007, Israeli police arrested Mondrowitz. Police found four films containing child pornography in his Jerusalem home, according to Israeli court papers.
But Hynes suffered a setback in January 2010, when Israel’s Supreme Court denied the American extradition request, saying that too much time had elapsed since Mondrowitz’s alleged crimes for a fair trial to take place in America.
Even so, Hynes continues to argue that he cannot release documents related to Mondrowitz’s case because the Department of Justice and the State Department are considering lodging a formal protest, known as a demarche, to the Israeli government, keeping extradition hopes alive.
Lesher filed federal freedom of information requests with the State Department and the Department of Justice in 2007, seeking all their paperwork on Mondrowitz.
He said the Department of Justice still has not responded to his request and that the State Department had turned down his request, citing the potential harm to an ongoing investigation, a reason similar to that offered by the Brooklyn D.A.
Lesher said that because federal and state freedom of information laws are similar, if he wins in the Court of Appeals it may have a “ripple effect,” forcing the federal agencies to turn over their papers, too.
“I don’t usually win,” Lesher said. But with one Supreme Court decision in his favor, “I am confident I am going to prevail.”