With her persistent and meticulous reporting, Hella Winston has shed light in these pages not only on a number of egregious examples of sexual abuse in certain segments of the Orthodox community in Brooklyn, but on the troublesome actions, or non-actions, on the part of Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes, and his office, in dealing with the problem.
Consider the sad, bizarre saga of Sam Kellner as it played out in court and in the mainstream media this week. Kellner, a whistleblower who suffered personally and communally for accusing a prominent fellow chasid, Baruch Lebovits, of sexually abusing Kellner’s teenage son, was the subject of several in-depth reports by Winston in The Jewish Week earlier this year. She wrote of how, after Kellner cooperated with the DA’s office in providing evidence against Lebovits, the Brooklyn prosecutors turned the tables on him and charged Kellner with bribing a witness to testify falsely that he was a victim of Lebovits. As a result, after helping the prosecutors gain a conviction of Lebovits in March 2010, Kellner was facing charges of perjury and extortion. Further, lawyers for Lebovits had his conviction overturned, in part because Kellner now was seen as untruthful and was being prosecuted.
On Monday, as the Kellner trial was set to open, prosecutors told the judge that they suspected their key witness of not being reliable, and asked for, and received, a delay. Particularly troubling is that, as Winston has reported, Kellner’s lawyers had given the DA’s office credible information months ago that the witness was being influenced by Lebovits.
Journalists for The New York Times and other mainstream media regularly look to Winston for help with their reporting on these intricately detailed stories, sometimes giving her credit, more often not. What she has shown in her work is a long and disturbing pattern suggesting Hynes’ reliance on certain politically powerful segments of the haredi community in Brooklyn who very much want to keep cases of abuse out of the public eye and to be handled by rabbis rather than public officials. Critics have accused Hynes, who is up for re-election this year, of giving in to haredi pressure and not pursuing cases of abuse, or of dissuading accusers from pursuing their cases. More recently the DA’s office was criticized for not making public the names of members of the Orthodox community charged with sexual abuse.
Hynes refutes the criticism as unfair; we leave it to our readers to decide for themselves, aided by the award-winning reporting Hella Winston continues to provide.