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Brooklyn D.A. Can Keep Abuse Files Secret

A dogged lawyer has lost his years-long battle to force Brooklyn’s District Attorney to release a trove of documents related to a alleged Orthodox child molester.

Michael Lesher

But attorney Michael Lesher believes the New York state Court of Appeals left him a legal opening to eventually win the release of the documents.

Lesher used New York’s freedom of information law to pursue the DA’s files on Avrohom Mondrowitz, a self-styled child psychologist from Brooklyn.

Mondrowitz fled to Israel before police could arrest him on charges of sodomizing five non-Jewish boys. Advocates believe he also abused dozens of Jewish victims, most of whom were too scared to contact authorities.

District Attorney Charles Hynes has long argued that releasing his files on Mondrowitz could jeopardize a future prosecution. He also claims they might reveal the identities of abuse victims.

The court battle reached New York’s Court of Appeals in February. On April 3, the court ruled that the state’s Freedom of Information Law allows officials to withhold documents if they could jeopardize active investigations or judicial proceedings, the Associated Press reported.

Hynes’s spokesman Jerry Schmetterer claimed victory for the policy of withholding the documents which he said protects, “the identify of these victims and their families from harassment by mindless and misguided people.”

“Mr. Lesher continues to attempt to force us to remove the protective shield which is the right of every victim of sexual abuse,” Schmetterer added.

Schmetterer’s comments notwithstanding, the court did not address Hynes’ practice of refusing to identify Orthodox Jews charged with sex abuse. The D.A. claims that releasing the names of those suspects or basic information about their crimes, which is a routine practice elsewhere, would somehow identify their victims.

Lesher believes the ruling actually could wind up helping his case because the Israeli Supreme Court has since refused a request to extradite Mondrowitz.

With extradition proceedings exhausted, Lesher believes there is no active investigation into Mondrowitz, and therefore no legal reason to keep the documents secret. The court appeared to agree.

“If (Lesher) is correct in his assessment of the decision’s effect,” the court decision concluded, “there is, practically speaking, no longer any pending or potential law enforcement investigation or judicial proceeding with which disclosure might interfere.”

Lesher said the decision implies that the files should be made public if a new request is made.

“So now I’m going to file a new FOIL request,” Lesher said, “and eventually the contents of the file will be public knowledge, which is what I’ve aimed at all along.”

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

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