Supreme Court nixes request from Leifer defense to halt proceedings amid appeal

Top court yet to schedule hearing to discuss appeal, but July 20 extradition hearing for alleged pedophile wanted in Australia will now be able to move forward as planned

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

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

The Supreme Court on Thursday rejected a request to halt proceedings against Malka Leifer, a request filed by the alleged serial pedophile’s attorneys, in tandem with an appeal against a lower court ruling that found her mentally fit to face extradition to Australia.

A prosecution official confirmed the request was nixed, meaning the July 20 Jerusalem District Court extradition hearing will take place as planned and won’t be postponed.

Leifer is wanted on charges of 74 counts of child sex abuse that allegedly took place in the 2000s while she served as principal of the Adass Israel ultra-Orthodox girls school in Melbourne.

A date has yet to be set for the defense’s Supreme Court appeal.

In their appeal, 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.

Malka Leifer’s attorneys Yehuda Fried (L) and Tal Gabay. (Courtesy)

However, Leifer was rearrested 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.

Victims rights advocate Manny Wax (right) holds up a phone from which Malka Leifer’s alleged victims Dassi Erlich, Nicole Meyer and Elie Sapper speak to reporters at the Jerusalem District Court on May 26, 2020. (Jacob Magid/Times of Israel)

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.

Leifer faces counts of sexual assault related to accusations brought forward by three sisters who say they were abused by her 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 rearrested two years later and proceedings against her have dragged on for over four years since then.

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