A judge granted preliminary approval last week to the $14.25 million settlement agreement reached by victims of Rabbi Barry Freundel and Kesher Israel, the Orthodox synagogue Freundel led until he was arrested for secretly filming women as they undressed at its nearby ritual bath.
The agreement, reached last month, will bring various levels of financial compensation to Freundel’s victims. That and attorney’s fees and other expenses will add up to $14.25 million, according to Alexandra Harwin, a lawyer with Sanford Heisler Sharpe, the firm representing victims in the class action suit.
Base payments to victims will begin at $2,500 for any woman who disrobed at the National Capital Mikvah (the ritual bath that is also one of the lawsuit’s defendants) between July 1, 2005 and Oct. 14, 2014 and suffered emotional distress after learning of the videotaping there. Women identified by the U.S. Attorney’s office as having been videotaped by Freundel can receive a base payment of $25,000. Harwin said the prosecutor’s office had identified more than 150 such women.
“The bulk of the settlement is made up of payments to class members,” Harwin said, adding that the parties didn’t have a good sense of how many women could come forward for the $2,500 payment.
In order to qualify for the payments, women must fill out a registration form available at mikvahsettlement.com, the website set up as a provision of the agreement.
Other than identifying information, the form has only two yes or no questions asking women to affirm that they were either identified by prosecutors as having been videotaped or disrobed at the bath during the relevant time period. The deadline for victims to register is Nov. 13.
“One thing that was really crucial in designing this settlement was ensuring that women victimized by Freundel would have the opportunity to receive compensation for what they experienced without undue burdens,” Harwin said.
In addition to the registration, a victim can complete an additional, more lengthy questionnaire “describing the harms she suffered” if they want to be considered for a supplemental payment on top of the base payment. Who receives those payments and their amount will be determined by a court-appointed independent claims expert.
Finally, the victims who pursued litigation on behalf of the entire class will be eligible for “service payments,” which will total “no more than $180,000” according to the settlement.
The law firms who brought litigation (including Sanford Heisler Sharpe) will receive one-third of the $14.25 million, or roughly $4.75 million in attorney’s fees, as well as $400,000 for out-of-pocket expenses incurred by the firms, according to Harwin.
Expenses for the independent claims expert and settlement administrator — “projected to total under $175,000,” according to the settlement — will also be paid, and the remainder of the $14.25 million will go to victims.
The settlement will come up for a final approval hearing on Oct. 22.
Leaders of Kesher Israel did not respond to several requests to comment for this story.