Plucky Lawyer Fights for Abuse Case Files

Takes on Prosecutor Over Suspected Molestor's Extradition Documents

Pushing Hard or Hardly Pushing? Is Brooklyn prosecutor Charles Hynes pushing hard enough to force the extradition from Israel of Avrohom Mondrowitz? Lawyer Michael Lesher wants to force Hynes to hand over documents that may answer the question.
getty images
Pushing Hard or Hardly Pushing? Is Brooklyn prosecutor Charles Hynes pushing hard enough to force the extradition from Israel of Avrohom Mondrowitz? Lawyer Michael Lesher wants to force Hynes to hand over documents that may answer the question.

By Paul Berger

Published February 10, 2012, issue of February 17, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Multi Page

The power of state freedom of information laws will be tested when a scrappy New Jersey lawyer who represents victims of an alleged ultra-Orthodox child abuser faces off against Brooklyn’s district attorney in court later this month.

Michael Lesher will argue in New York State’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, on February 14 that District Attorney Charles Hynes must release a trove of documents.

Michael Lesher
courtesy michael lesher
Michael Lesher

The papers relate to a decades-long investigation of Avrohom Mondrowitz, an American Orthodox rabbi and self-styled child psychotherapist who fled to Israel from Brooklyn in 1984 before police could arrest him on charges of sodomizing five non-Jewish boys. Mondrowitz, who was indicted on those charges in 1985, is alleged to have abused dozens of Jewish children, too, but because of communal fears of reporting to the secular authorities at the time, many alleged Jewish victims did not come forward.

Lesher, who represents six alleged Jewish victims, has long accused Hynes of dragging his heels on extraditing Mondrowitz from Israel. He claims that Hynes has feared upsetting Brooklyn’s bloc-voting Orthodox Jewish community since taking up the elected post in 1990. He believes the files stored in Hynes’ office could prove it.

Four years ago, Lesher used freedom of information laws to demand that Hynes release his files on Mondrowitz, including all correspondence between his office and federal agencies regarding efforts to extradite Mondrowitz from Israel.

Hynes refused. The D.A. claimed that releasing the information could jeopardize any future prosecution of Mondrowitz. He also argued that because of civil rights laws, he could not divulge information that might reveal the identity of abuse victims.

Last December, Hynes also used the need to protect victims’ identities to justify his refusal to release to the Forward the names of 85 Orthodox individuals who Hynes said had been arrested on sex abuse charges in Brooklyn over the past three years. Hynes had recently touted his record on arrests of alleged Orthodox child abusers. But when asked to identify them, he declined even to name 14 abusers who had been convicted.

Doing so, Hynes claimed, would potentially enable readers to identify victims.

“Under the Civil Rights Law of New York State, we cannot release the names of any victims of sexual assault or any information that would tend to identify them,” a spokesman for Hynes’s office told the Forward in December.

At the time, legal experts and law enforcement officials said that it was not unusual to maintain the anonymity of some offenders, particularly for abuse committed within a family. But they expressed surprise that the Brooklyn D.A. would effectively issue a blanket ban on naming Jewish offenders.

The same week, Hynes announced the sentencing of non-Jew Gerald Hatcher, 47, for raping his girlfriend’s 11-year-old daughter in their Brooklyn home.

Hynes spokesman Jerry Schmetterer told the Forward on February 7 that the D.A. released Hatcher’s details because the “case was well known by reporters who covered the sentencing.”

Schmetterer declined to comment on the pending case against Lesher.

But freedom of information specialists said the court battle could have wide-ranging implications for similar cases across the country, where government agencies have been similarly obstructive when requested to release documents.

Robert Freeman, executive director of the New York State Committee on Open Government, said state freedom of information laws nationwide are founded on the same principles.

“They say government records are supposed to be exposed except to the extent that an exception can be properly applied,” said Freeman.

“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.”

Contact Paul Berger at berger@forward.com or on Twitter @pdberger


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: 10,000 Israel supporters gathered for a solidarity rally near the United Nations in New York yesterday.
  • Step into the Iron Dome with Tuvia Tenenbom.
  • What do you think of Wonder Woman's new look?
  • "She said that Ruven Barkan, a Conservative rabbi, came into her classroom, closed the door and turned out the lights. He asked the class of fourth graders to lie on the floor and relax their bodies. Then, he asked them to pray for abused children." Read Paul Berger's compelling story about a #Savannah community in turmoil:
  • “Everything around me turns orange, then a second of silence, then a bomb goes off!" First installment of Walid Abuzaid’s account of the war in #Gaza:
  • Is boredom un-Jewish?
  • Let's face it: there's really only one Katz's Delicatessen.
  • "Dear Diaspora Jews, I’m sorry to break it to you, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t insist that every Jew is intrinsically part of the Israeli state and that Jews are also intrinsically separate from, and therefore not responsible for, the actions of the Israeli state." Do you agree?
  • Are Michelangelo's paintings anti-Semitic? Meet the Jews of the Sistine Chapel: http://jd.fo/i4UDl
  • What does the Israel-Hamas war look like through Haredi eyes?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.