Attorneys representing alleged serial pedophile Malka Leifer on Wednesday filed an appeal with the Supreme Court against a Jerusalem court ruling that found her mentally fit to face extradition to Australia, where she is wanted on charges of 74 counts of child sex abuse.
In addition, the lawyers filed a request that the proceedings against Leifer be halted until the top legal body rules on their appeal. If accepted, this could push back the July 20 extradition hearing that Jerusalem District Court Judge Chana Miriam Lomp scheduled in May after determining that the former ultra-Orthodox girls’ school principal has been feigning mental illness to avoid facing justice.
No date was immediately set for a hearing on the Supreme Court appeal.
In their petition, Leifer’s attorneys relied on a 2016 court ruling that found their client mentally unfit for trial, after which she was subsequently released. That decision “was based on numerous medical documents along with detailed professional opinions, from public hospitals, private psychiatrists and the district psychiatrist in Jerusalem, which all found… that Leifer suffers from schizoaffective disorder as well as psychotic depression and is therefore incapable of prosecution,” the defense wrote in its appeal.
However, Leifer was re-arrested in early 2018 after police found evidence that she had faked her mental incompetence. The court subsequently asked for another psychological review, whose findings were handed down in January by a medical panel that unanimously determined Leifer had been feigning mental illness in order to avoid extradition to Australia, and assessed her as fit to stand trial.
Moreover, the Jerusalem district psychiatrist relied on by the defense faces allegations he reversed his medical opinion to find Leifer mentally incompetent due to pressure from then-health minister Yaakov Litzman. Dr. Jacob Charnes changed his medical conclusion regarding Leifer’s mental health three times since the case began, causing significant delays in the process. Police last year recommended that Litzman, who is a member of the Gur Hasidic sect to which Leifer has ties, be indicted for fraud and breach of trust over his conduct in the case.
Leifer’s attorneys, Yehuda Fried and Tal Gabay, argue in their appeal that the fact their client is still receiving anti-psychotic medication in prison proves that she is in fact suffering from severe mental illness.
Lomp addressed this argument in her May ruling, saying that Leifer does appear to suffer from mental illness, but “not psychotic… problems of mental illness in the legal sense” that would warrant halting the proceedings against her.
The defense also asked to submit additional testimony from a senior Israel Prisons Service medical officer who, it says, “completely rejects” the Jerusalem District Court determination that Leifer is mentally ill.
Wednesday’s appeal came as a slight surprise to those following the case, since after the May 26 ruling against Leifer her attorneys told reporters that the law did not allow them to submit such a petition at this stage. Standing off to the side as the defense spoke outside the chambers, an official from the prosecution told The Times of Israel that the lawyers were mistaken. Indeed, Fried said Wednesday that after reexamining the procedures, they determined that they could submit an appeal.
The Supreme Court’s response to the latest appeal will likely have implications on a separate civil suit filed last month by another attorney representing Leifer. Avraham Ambar argues that if indeed the psychiatric panel is correct in concluding that his client is feigning mental illness, the IPS has been negligently prescribing her with anti-psychotic drugs for years, for no reason. The attorney sent a letter to the IPS demanding that it state whether it stands behind its doctors, who have been prescribing Leifer with such strong medication. The IPS responded by saying that it backs its psychiatrists. Ambar told The Times of Israel Wednesday that if the Supreme Court rejects the latest appeal, he will move forward with his case against the IPS.
Manny Waks, who heads the Kol V’Oz victims rights group, said in a statement, “This appeal was completely expected. Of course, every defendant is entitled to due process, so we will anxiously await the outcome of this process. However, based on the evidence, and as someone who has followed this case very closely, I expect this appeal to be promptly rejected, and for Leifer to be extradited to Australia in the near future.”
Leifer faces counts of sexual assault related to accusations brought forward by three sisters who say they were abused while she was a teacher and principal at the Adass ultra-Orthodox religious school they attended in Melbourne. In 2008, as the allegations surfaced, the Israeli-born Leifer left the school in Australia and returned to Israel.
Leifer was put under house arrest in 2014 after Australia filed an extradition request and underwent the beginnings of an extradition process. But that ended in 2016 when a mental health evaluation determined she wasn’t fit to stand trial.
She was re-arrested two years later and proceedings against her have dragged on for over four years since.