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Malka Leifer’s lawyers step down weeks before latest long-shot appeal

Attorney Tal Gabay stands by argument accused child rapist is mentally unfit for trial; Supreme Court set to hear attempt to prevent her extradition to Australia in December

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

(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)
(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)

Malka Leifer’s lawyers, who have represented the accused sex offender through a tortuous legal process of over six years, have decided to step down.

The development comes just weeks before the Supreme Court is slated to hear the latest Hail Mary attempt to prevent Leifer’s extradition to Australia, where she’s wanted on 74 counts of child sex abuse.

Lawyer Tal Gabay revealed the decision in an interview with the Globes business daily on Friday, saying the December 3 appeal hearing is a “side issue of the long and ongoing process of questioning [Leifer’s] mental fitness.”

Gabay, who represented Leifer along with his legal partner Yehuda Fried, did not comment further on the decision.

It was not immediately clear who would represent Leifer moving forward. Nick Kaufman, who defended Muammar Gaddafi’s children at the International Criminal Court, joined Leifer’s legal team earlier this year, and would ostensibly take over as lead attorney for a defense that has not seemed to have a problem financing such high profile lawyers.

Gabay told Globes that he still believed the Israeli justice system would prevent Leifer’s extradition and that even if it did not, an Australian court would determine that she is unfit to face justice, and therefore will be allowed to return to Israel.

Manny Waks, the CEO of VoiCSA, an Israel-based organization combating child sexual abuse in the global Jewish community, said in a statement, “This sudden resignation is an indication that Malka Leifer’s long-standing and prominent legal defense team expects the Supreme Court to uphold the Jerusalem District Court’s decision to extradite Leifer to Australia to belatedly face justice.”

In this photo from February 27, 2018, Malka Leifer, right, is brought to a courtroom in Jerusalem. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean, File)

He pointed out that the panel set to hear the latest appeal is made up of the same three judges who in a previous ruling against Leifer chided the lower court for allowing the trial to drag out “much beyond what is reasonable.”

Once Leifer has been returned to Australia, Waks said his organization would “repeat our call for a full review to take place in Israel to find out why this particular case has dragged out so long and whether allegations of political interference are substantiated.”

In September, the Jerusalem District Court ruled that Leifer, a former principal who fled to Israel after accusations against her surfaced in 2008, could be sent to Australia.

If the Supreme Court rejects the latest appeal next month as expected, Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn will still be required to sign off on the extradition in order for Leifer to be put on a plane back to Australia — another procedural step that provides an opportunity for an appeal.

For years, hearings on Leifer were postponed by claims of sudden bouts of a debilitating condition. A Jerusalem court suspended proceedings in 2016, deeming her mentally unfit to stand trial. She was rearrested in 2018 after being filmed appearing to lead a fully functional life.

Leifer was allegedly aided by former health minister Yaakov Litzman, who police last year recommended be indicted for pressuring psychiatrists in his office to change the medical opinions submitted to the court to deem her unfit for trial.

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