Court to compel alleged pedophile Leifer to undergo psychiatric evaluation

Ruling comes after defense informed judges she won’t cooperate with panel ordered to determine whether she’s feigning mental illness to avoid extradition

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

Former principal Malka Leifer, wanted in Australia for child sex abuse crimes, seen at the Jerusalem District Court, on February 14, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Former principal Malka Leifer, wanted in Australia for child sex abuse crimes, seen at the Jerusalem District Court, on February 14, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Alleged serial child rapist Malka Leifer will be required to appear before a psychiatric panel that will determine whether she has been feigning mental illness to avoid extradition to Australia, the Jerusalem District Court ruled Thursday.

Judge Chana Lomp’s decision comes two days after Leifer’s attorneys informed the court that their client would not cooperate with the panel, which, they claimed, will be biased against her.

The decision will require prison guards to compel Leifer to go to the panel hearing in order to undergo an evaluation.

The State Prosecutor’s Office also files a request to have all information from the trial passed along to the panel to give its members a full picture of Leifer’s mental state. Without it, Leifer would likely have to be hospitalized for three weeks in order to be re-evaluated from scratch. That would likely delay the panel’s decision, which the court ordered it make by December 10, a source with knowledge of the proceedings told The Times of Israel.

Lomp has now given the opportunity for Leifer’s attorneys, Tal Gabay and Yehuda Fried, to respond to the state’s request before passing the file on to the panel. A decision on the matter could come as soon as later Thursday, the source said.

Malka Leifer (YouTube screenshot)

Proceedings against Leifer have lasted over five years, during which Australia has continuously demanded that she be extradited back to Melbourne, where she faces 74 charges of child sex abuse.

Last month, Lomp ruled that the evidence against Leifer was inconclusive and therefore a board of psychiatric experts would be appointed to determine whether the former principal of Adass Israel ultra-Orthodox girls’ school in Melbourne has been faking mental incompetence to avoid being sent back to Australia for a sex abuse trial.

Both the prosecution and defense opposed the appointment of a new panel, with both arguing that sufficient evidence had been submitted to reach a verdict. The state has relied on the legal opinions of three district psychiatrists who determined that Leifer is mentally fit to face justice.

Leifer’s attorneys, meanwhile, cited testimony from prison doctors, who said that the 52-year-old takes the highest dosage of anti-psychotic medication. They also flew in several attorneys from around the world to argue that Leifer is not mentally competent.

(From L-R) Malka Leifer’s attorneys Tal Gabay and Yehuda Fried speak to reporters at the Jerusalem District Court on September 23, 2019. (Jacob Magid/Times of Israel)

The defense argued that by deeming the evidence against their client to be inconclusive, Lomp’s ruling had in effect discarded the possibility that the suspect has been faking.

The defense then filed a motion to have Leifer released from prison for the remainder of the legal proceedings against her. The Jerusalem District Court agreed to free her to house arrest, but that ruling was overturned earlier this month by the Supreme Court.

Since the Supreme Court decision, the defense petitioned the High Court of Justice to have the proceedings against Leifer halted altogether. The top legal body rejected the petition last week.

In their Tuesday letter to the court, Gabay and Fried asked that Lomp reach a decision on her own regarding Leifer’s mental state without the recommendation of the panel.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a prosecution official suggested that the defense’s letter might be a “media stunt” — a claim that the defense flatly denied.

Another prosecution official told The Times of Israel that she was not familiar with any other case in which the defense “blatantly disregarded” a court decision. She said the prosecution would wait to hear the judge’s response to the defense’s letter before taking any steps of its own.

Last week, Tel Aviv District Psychiatrist Uzi Shai informed the court that he had appointed Northern District chief psychiatrist Amir Ben Efraim, Haifa District chief psychiatrist Aline Rozensweig and Haifa District deputy psychiatrist Ilanit Isaacs to the court-ordered panel to provide a recommendation.

The defense had demanded that the medical board be made up of private psychiatrists, claiming that public servants would more quickly bow to state and media pressure.

Jerusalem District Psychiatrist Jacob Charnes in 2016 (Facebook)

The court had agreed to the state’s request that Jerusalem District chief psychiatrist Jacob Charnes be barred from any involvement in the panel despite the court being under his jurisdiction.

Charnes has changed his opinion on Leifer’s mental fitness three times, dragging out the proceedings that have lasted over five years. Last July, police recommended Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman be indicted for fraud and breach of trust over suspicions that he pressured officials in his office, including Charnes, to prevent Leifer from being extradited.

The nature of the delays in the Leifer case have been a cause of considerable strain on relations between Jerusalem and Canberra. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison last week called on Israel to wrap the case up swiftly.

In 2000, Leifer was recruited from Israel to work at the all-girls Adass Israel ultra-Orthodox school in Melbourne. When allegations of sexual abuse against her began to surface eight years later, members of the school board purchased the mother of eight a plane ticket back to Israel, allowing her to avoid being charged.

She was arrested in Israel in 2014 after Australia filed for extradition, but a Jerusalem court suspended the proceedings in 2016, deeming her mentally unfit to stand trial.

Following a police undercover operation that cast doubts on claims regarding her mental state, Leifer was rearrested in February 2018 and has remained in custody since. The operation was launched at the request of Interpol after the Jewish Community Watch organization hired private investigators who placed hidden cameras in Emmanuel, a Haredi settlement in the northern West Bank, where Leifer had been living. The camera footage showed the alleged sex abuser roaming around the town without any apparent difficulty.

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