Unorthodox Exception Or Preferential Treatment? Brooklyn District Attorney Refuses To Release Names Of Orthodox Jews Accused Of Child Abuse

There is an interesting story out of Brooklyn. The Brooklyn District Attorney routinely releases the names of charged individuals — as do all prosecutors. However, Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes has decided not to release the names of Orthodox Jews charged with child sex abuse in deference to their “tight-knit and insular” community. That seems like preferential treatment given a particular religious group — a group with considerable political power in New York.

We have previously discussed the difficulty experienced by victims of child abuse in the Orthodox Jewish community — an experience with many analogies to the response of the Catholic Church in past years.

Hynes insists that the ‘tight-knit’ nature of the Orthodox community makes it impossible to disclose the identities of abuse suspects without also identifying their victims. Instead, he imposed an exception for Orthodox Jewish defendants that has not been applied to any other known group. This followed a refusal to release the names under a demand through New York’s Freedom of Information Law.

Assistant District Attorney Morgan Dennehy insisted that the Orthodox Jewish community is “unique” and that the names of the charged would allow the identification of the victims. However, the fact that the community is so tight knit would also presumably mean that the charges against individuals would be known to other people in the community. Moreover, the withholding of the names can endanger other minors who may have contact with them without their parents knowing of the charges. It would also mean that other victims may not learn of the charges and come forward — something that we have seen in other cases.
There appears to be 85 Orthodox Jews arrested on sex charges during the past three years — presumably the community is already aware of many of their identities since they have had to get lawyers and be processed in the criminal justice system.

Dennehy also claimed that revealing the names would undermine the operation of the DA’s special hotline, Kol Tzedek, or Voice of Justice — set up to deal with victims in the Orthodox community. She suggested that it might deter victims from coming forward. Yet, it may also encourage such victims since the Orthodox community has been accused in the past of covering up abuse and harassing victims. Now victims could see actual cases of prosecution and compare their own experiences in light of such charges.

I believe that the preferential treatment given this religious community is deeply disturbing and unjustified. We have previously seen extraordinary measures by city leaders to accommodate the hasidic community in its view of women and clothing styles. It is difficult to explain to other defendants why they are named (and mugshots released) but others are not. It appears that a defendant need only be a member of the Orthodox Jewish community to be able to claim an exemption from public identification. If you are a member of another religion or an atheist, you are out of luck because you are not “unique.” What about insular Muslim or small evangelical communities?

The preferential treatment given this group undermines not only principles of separation of church and state but the public right to know about public charges in the criminal justice system. The media often allows the public to monitor the actions not just of accused persons but the government itself. The Court has stressed that

responsible press has always been regarded as the handmaiden of effective judicial administration, especially in the criminal field. . . . The press does not simply publish information about trials, but guards against the miscarriage of justice by subjecting the police, prosecutors, and judicial processes to extensive public scrutiny and criticism.

Sheppard v. Maxwell, 384 U.S. 333, 350 (1966).

The decision of the District Attorney in this case in my view is fundamentally at odds with fair and equal treatment in the criminal justice system.

Source: Wall Street Journal and Gothamist

40 thoughts on “Unorthodox Exception Or Preferential Treatment? Brooklyn District Attorney Refuses To Release Names Of Orthodox Jews Accused Of Child Abuse”

  1. Jewishwhistleblower you are correct in your assertions to my knowledge and I am a NY Jew, who in years past worked with part of this community. An active link to the Jewish Week article is listed below:
    I’ve always found the NY Jewish Week to be a fair newspaper and subscribed to it when I lived in NYC. I think what needs to be explained here is just what part of the Jewish community in Brooklyn we are dealing with and why they wield such power in Brooklyn and other parts of NYC. This group of Jews are known as Haredi.
    “Noun 1. Haredi – any of several sects of Orthodox Judaism that reject modern secular culture and many of whom do not recognize the spiritual authority of the modern state of Israel”

    They are a group of Ultra-Orthodox Jews who live in tight-knit communities located mainly in the Williamsburgh, Greenpoint and Crown Heights sections of Brooklyn. For those who aren’t Jewish, they are quite equivalent to Right Wing Evangelical Christians and Muslim Fundamentalists in outlook. This equivalency is particularly true when it comes to being patriarchal, repressive towards women and trying to limit exposure to the modern world/culture. In my experience the nature of these communities are basically that of cults. This in the sense of a strong central leadership that demands obedience and a membership willing to follow the teachings of that leadership, even if the teachings stray from what has historically been religious belief. I use the Ultra in front of Orthodox to distinguish them from normative Orthodox Jews, who in general are not in total thrall to this belief system. However, because the Haredi appear to be so fervent in the adherence to what they deem Jewish Law, they have some respect among the Orthodox community.

    The real question of this story is why they can wield such political power in the large Borough of Brooklyn and NYC in general, power way beyond their numbers? The answer is simply Politics 101. These groups due to their strong leadership vote almost completely as a bloc. It is well known in politics that bloc voting is very effective in getting elected. If you are trying to be elected by a group of let’s say 50,000 people, containing a voting bloc of 10,000, if you can get that 10,000 on your side you’ve gone a far way towards winning the election. If you get only 16,000 (40%) of the remaining 40,000 you win.
    Hynes knows this and has been using this for years to get elected. The power of this community in NYC politics reaches back to the Mayoralty of Ed Koch, when they really became politically sophisticated.

    I personally believe that the Haredi have really strayed far from normative Jewish beliefs, although they strictly practice its rituals and laws, since to me they are cultist. They of course would have little truck with me and my beliefs and would consider me only nominally Jewish, even though being born of Jewish parents.

  2. From December 15, 2011 on FailedMessiah Blog:
    Charles Hynes also says that not every sex offender goes to jail because, for people who come to his office through Kol Tzedek, his special programs for child sex abusers in the haredi community, or priests who come to his office through a similar arrangement with the Church, “we have programs for people who have this sickness.” Hynes also said there is “no systemic outbreak of sexual violence in the frum community – that’s a myth – any more than there is a systemic outbreak of sexual violence in the priesthood.”
    Note these special programs Hynes mentions, including Kol Tzedek, and the deals they dole out to sex offenders from their respective affinity groups, deals that allow sexual predators to avoid prison (and the sex offender registry and media coverage) are specifically for Catholic clergy and haredim – but not not for atheists or followers of Santeria or Seventh Day Adventists or agnostics or hipsters or artists or Blacks or Asians or Hispanics or any of the other groups that populate Brooklyn. And that should means Hynes’ deals with these two religious communities discriminate against all non-haredi and non-Catholic-clergy sex offenders in Brooklyn. And that should make these deals and the special programs they created illegal.
    The recording is one minute and twenty-five seconds long.

  3. Excerpt
    Abuse Case Dates Suggest Brooklyn DA Is Cooking Numbers For Kol Tzedek Hotline
    At least eight arrests happened before Orthodox community effort was launched, Jewish Week finds.
    Tuesday, April 24, 2012
    Hella Winston

    At least eight sex abuse cases identified by the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office as Kol Tzedek cases were actually reported years before the advent of the confidential hotline, The Jewish Week has learned. This information calls into question the reliability of the statistics the DA has used to tout the success of the hotline.

    When asked why cases that were reported before the advent of Kol Tzedek are now considered a part of it, DA spokesman Jerry Schmetterer told The Jewish Week that the DA “made them part of Kol Tzedek.”
    Asked to clarify by what criteria that decision was made, Schmetterer replied that he had “no further comment.”

  4. “Hynes insists that the ‘tight-knit’ nature of the Orthodox community makes it impossible to disclose the identities of abuse suspects without also identifying their victims.”

    This needs qualification. Adults within the community probably already know the names of those arrested and the victims, but not those outside the community. This isn’t restricted to the Orthodox Jewish community.

    In most neighborhoods/communities it is known when someone is arrested, and with some pretty good idea of why, well before it hits the news. If it involves abuse of children, which children is also known. How this is handled by the adults determines how other children react if they have also been abused.

    The DA is protecting those charged.

  5. Part of the reason Hynes won’t release the names is that he has been caught in a lie. The statistics he has made public for the program Kol Tzedek (that the DA started to keep Orthodox Jewish pedophiles out of jail) are a fabrication and the names when released (some information already released and confirms the DA manipulation of the statistics, see breaking news story on the NY Jewish Week website) will prove it.

  6. There is a recent recording of Hynes acknowledging that Kol Tzedek and a similar program for Catholic clergy are in place to help keep Orthodox Jewish pedophiles and Catholic clergy out of jail (and presumably off the public sex offender registry). No other group enjoys such protection from the DA.

  7. “It is child abuse and a matter of privacy to the victims. Not the community.”

    And how excactly does not naming the charged impact the privacy of the victims? The decision to come forward and testify is still theirs to make.

  8. It is child abuse and a matter of privacy to the victims. Not the community.

  9. Elaine,

    Agreed. That’s a completely counter-intuitive statement that actually plays into the hegemony within the community that covered the abuse to begin with: “We can’t tell you their names because it might scare you.”


  10. “Dennehy also claimed that revealing the names would undermine the operation of the DA’s special hotline, Kol Tzedek, or Voice of Justice — set up to deal with victims in the Orthodox community. She suggested that it might deter victims from coming forward.”


    I think Dennehy knows better than that. As you said, it will encourage some victims of sexual abuse to come forward–just as it did here in Massachusetts after the Boston Globe Spotlight Team broke the story on the sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests.

  11. Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes should be released from his job out of deference to the law.

  12. “unique,” “tight-knit and insular” ?!? I imagine the Pope will be looking to move a bunch of Priests to Brooklyn soon.

    Religion trumping the law – exactly what the founders had in mind when they wrote the Constitution.

  13. Hynes and Dennehy are showing “deference” to the sex abusers of children because they’re members of a “unique,” “tight-knit and insular” community? Good grief! Methinks the Orthodox Jewish community must wield significant political power.

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