Medical board set to rule that Malka Leifer is feigning mental illness
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Medical board set to rule that Malka Leifer is feigning mental illness

Lawyer for Australia principal charged with sex abuse seeking to prevent panel from handing down conclusion, which would have major impact on court’s extradition ruling

Jacob Magid is the settlements correspondent for The Times of Israel.

Malka Leifer (YouTube screenshot)
Malka Leifer (YouTube screenshot)

A court-appointed medical board will determine that Malka Leifer has been feigning mental illness in order to avoid extradition to Australia, where she is charged with 74 counts of sex abuse, The Times of Israel confirmed on Thursday.

The decision by the panel would hold considerable bearing on the ruling that the Jerusalem District Court plans to hand down on September 23 regarding whether the former principal of the Adass Israel ultra-Orthodox girls school in Melbourne is mentally fit to face an extradition hearing.

During a meeting last month, the panel “indicated” that it believed Leifer was faking, a medical official told The Times of Israel, confirming a Channel 13 news report. However, two psychiatrists and a lawyer asked to be given additional documents regarding her psychiatric treatment in prison before making a final decision. The panel has yet to reconvene.

Leifer was whisked out of Australia in 2008 by members of the Adass board as allegations against her were coming to light. She was arrested in Israel in 2014 after Melbourne filed for extradition, but a Jerusalem court suspended the proceedings in 2016, deeming her mentally unfit to stand trial. Accepting the argument of the defense that she was too ill to leave her bed, Judge Amnon Cohen eventually removed all restrictions against Leifer.

However, Cohen ordered that she appear every six months before a medical board that which would decide whether to keep requiring her to receive psychiatric treatment.

Adass Israel ultra-Orthodox girls school headmistress Malka Leifer (left) with her students, among them Nicole Meyer (center) in 2003. (Courtesy)

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 NGO 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.

Chana Lomp, the Jerusalem District Court judge who has presided over Leifer’s case since her latest arrest, ordered that she continue appearing before the panel every six months.

The panel was slated to reconvene on July 11, and its members were to be given additional documents that were requested before making a decision.

But Leifer’s attorney Yehuda Fried called in sick and the hearing was pushed off until the following week. It was then canceled altogether after the lawyer went on vacation, a medical official told The Times of Israel.

Both sides reassembled on Thursday, but the hearing was once again adjourned after the chairman agreed to a request from Fried to remove from the panel a doctor whom the attorney alleged held prejudices against his client, Channel 13 news reported. The doctor was on the June 24 panel.

A legal official told The Times of Israel that Fried had sought unsuccessfully to get the notes from the June 24 hearing scrapped from the record.

Fried declined a request for comment.

Malka Leifer’s attorney Yehudah Fried speaks to reporters outside the Jerusalem District Court in March 2018. (Screen capture/YouTube)

With Israeli courts slated to recess for the month of August, a follow-up hearing has yet to be scheduled and may not take place before the Jerusalem court hands down its own ruling regarding Leifer’s mental fitness for extradition.

If the panel does convene prior to September 23, its ruling is expected to hold considerable weight in Lomp’s decision, given that she ordered the panel to continue meeting.

Meanwhile, one of Leifer’s alleged victims, Dassi Erlich, said she felt “let down again by a system, which should be straightforward but somehow has allowed itself to be manipulated over and over again.”

“Until now it’s been Leifer evading justice, but now her lawyer is exploiting every opportunity to ensure the wheels of justice don’t move forward,” she added.

Despite the seemingly damning evidence provided by the nonprofit JCW, Leifer’s extradition proceedings have dragged on for an additional year, as the court continues to debate her mental fitness. The Jerusalem district psychiatrist responsible for evaluating Leifer, Dr. Jacob Charnes, has changed his mind three separate times regarding whether Leifer is fit for extradition.

In April 2015, he signed off on a legal opinion affirming that she was fit to be sent back to Australia. In December of that year, he signed off on another legal opinion, which reached a contrary conclusion. After Leifer was re-arrested in 2018, state psychiatrists put together an updated legal opinion, once again finding her fit for extradition.

Charnes refused to sign off on the document for several months, but eventually did so. However, when he was cross-examined by the defense on the evaluation late last year, he told the court that he recommended an additional evaluation of Leifer be carried out — a proposal that both sides have rejected.

A private investigator tagged Malka Leifer as she did shopping in Bnei Brak on December 14, 2017. (Screen capture/YouTube)

In February, police opened an investigation against Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman on suspicions that he pressured staff in his office — among them Charnes — to change the conclusions of their psychiatric evaluations to deem Leifer unfit for extradition.

A legal official told The Times of Israel that police suspect Charnes changed his medical conclusion after being contacted by officials in Litzman’s office. Charnes was interrogated under caution in the case against the deputy health minister.

Last month, the Kan public broadcaster reported that police were gearing up to recommend Litzman be indicted for using his office to illicitly provide assistance to alleged sex abusers.

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