Protest planned for Freundel hearing

Rabbi Barry Freundel

UPDATE JAN. 16 at 10:10 a.m.

No evidence was presented during Friday morning’s brief status hearing. The government requested a continuance. Rabbi Barry Freundel’s next court appearance is scheduled for Feb. 19.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office currently is reaching out to everyone who submitted their photograph, believing that they may have been filmed by Freundel. The deadline to send in a photograph is Jan. 31. The photograph should be sent to [email protected],

Some 100 Jewish women, clad in matching blue, are expected to rally outside the Superior Court of the District of Columbia Friday morning before Rabbi Barry Freundel’s next scheduled appearance in court. The former Georgetown rabbi is charged with six counts of misdemeanor voyeurism for allegedly videotaping women as they undressed in preparation for using the mikvah at The National Capital Mikvah.

No witnesses were expected to be called to testify at the Jan. 16 hearing. Freundel’s attorney, Jeffrey Harris, said that, as of press time, he believed the government was going to come in and ask for a continuance of 30 days.

Harris, a managing partner in the D.C. law firm Rubin, Winston, Harris & Cooke LLP, said it was “too soon” to say whether he will seek a plea agreement for his client or whether they’ll take the case to trial.

Freundel was arrested in October of last year and since that time the government has been reviewing evidence from a camera seized from the changing room of the mikvah as well as from several of Freundel’s computers, floppy disks, hard drives, memory sticks and SD cards confiscated from his home, the synagogue and his office at Towson University.

The protesters, who believe they may have been surreptitiously recorded by Freundel, are upset that the government has not allowed them to file private criminal complaints against the rabbi or take greater part in the government’s case against him.

“Rabbi Freundel’s victims deserve their day in court. Rabbi Freundel should stand trial and should not receive a plea deal,” the group posted to Facebook earlier this week. They plan to wear blue to “show solidarity and bear witness. Blue is a very Jewish color. It’s peaceful and it also represents the water of the mikvah,” said Lisette Garcia, a member of Kesher Israel who assisted Freundel in preparing conversion candidates.

If only the six women currently listed as victims in the criminal complaint are brought to court, she said, the government will not see the whole picture of Freundel’s crimes, which could involve more than 500 victims. Five or six women used the mikvah every Sunday for years, she said when asked how she arrived at that number.

Justin Dillon, a criminal defense attorney with Kaiser, LeGrand & Dillon PLLC and a former federal prosecutor in D.C., said while he sympathized with the protesters, they are mistaken about criminal process and procedure.

Friday’s scheduled hearing is meant to be a housekeeping conference between the attorneys and the court. It is not the time for alleged victims to state on the record how they were harmed, or why they don’t favor a plea deal, Dillon explained.

If Freundel is convicted, either by means of a guilty plea or a trial, the victims will have the right to speak in open court on the day of sentencing, said Dillon. A victim at this point only needs to be notified of court dates and told if the defendant is released.

“They will absolutely have their day in court,” Dillon said, adding they will not ever get to decide whether Freundel goes to trial. No victim in a criminal case prosecuted by the government ever has that power. Plea negotiations occur in almost all criminal cases, and it is up to the defendant to decide whether to accept any plea offer or go to trial.

Moreover, said Dillon, allowing victims to speak at sentencing is better for them. At that time, they will not be cross-examined. “They will not go through the wringer,” as they certainly would on the witness stand giving testimony in a trial. “Do they want to see their naked bodies in open court and have to ID them?” he wondered. That’s exactly how the government would have to meet its burden of proof in a case of voyeurism such as this one.

A plea agreement also would guarantee a guilty verdict on at least some of the charges. As Dillon pointed out, if, at trial, just one juror voted “Not Guilty,” then the case would end in a hung jury and have to be retried, prolonging the victims’ ordeal.

Why the continual delays in this case?

Steven Kelly, an attorney with Silverman, Thompson, Slutkin & White, who has filed a civil negligence suit against Kesher Israel, The National Capital Mikvah and Georgetown University, where Freundel taught, said that the government has plenty of time to make its case now that Freundel is no longer incarcerated and is free on bond.

While Freundel has a right to a speedy trial, he can waive that right. “No defendant who is free” is in any hurry to plead guilty or go to trial, Kelly said. He believes justice will be better served if the government takes its time and carefully reviews all evidence and information. For example, said the attorney, it is important for the government to determine how long Freundel has been allegedy videotaping women, whether he distributed any of those images and whether he has perpetrated any other sexual crimes before devising any plea offer.

Both Kelly and Dillon said they expect the government to seek jail time for Freundel if he is convicted. Said Dillon: “I think, in the end, the victims will be pleased with the government’s efforts on their behalf.”

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