Amy Sara Clark writes about politics and education. A Columbia Journalism School graduate, she's worked at CBS News, The Journal News, The Jersey Journal, Mom365, JTA and Prospect Heights Patch. She comes to journalism from academia where she earned a master's degree in European History with a focus on Vichy France.
Sam Kellner, the chasidic sex abuse whistleblower who was indicted in 2011 for bribery and extortion, but whose case dismissed in early 2014, has filed a defamation suit against The Jewish Daily Forward.
The suit, which concerns a Nov.14, 2013 article published by the Forward, entitled "Sam Kellner's Tangled Hasidic Tale of Child Sex Abuse, Extortion and Faith," alleges that the article relied on illegally made and doctored recordings in an attempt to commit “low grade character assassination" of Kellner. In doing so, the suit claims, the article turned the “distinguished” publication into “the propaganda wing of a criminal conspiracy” to protect convicted child molester Baruch Lebovits, making it the "Pravda for pedophiles."
The suit, filed by Kellner’s attorney Niall Macgiollabhui, of the law firm of Michael G. Dowd, in Manhattan Supreme Court on Friday, alleges that the Forward defamed Kellner twice in the article, and then once more over twitter.
The first claim is that the article falsely states that Kellner was caught on tape telling “the family of a child molester who had pleaded guilty that he can help get the man off and that, citing the hasidic bloc vote, they should tell the da, ‘hey, you took a jewish man, you railroaded him into a deal … and we won’t forget it.’"
The paper also claimed that “Kellner also told the family they can buy off prosecutors with meals, new york Yankees tickets and other gifts to have the case thrown out.”
The suit identifies a second defamatory passage involving an assertion that another man, Simon Taub, implicated Kellner in an extortion plot.
The third alleged act of defamation was a Nov. 16 tweet by the Forward that incorrectly characterized Kellner as a “convicted extortionist.” The Forward retracted the statement and apologized for it in a note at the bottom of Berger’s article.
The lawsuit claims that the recordings were obtained illegally and “doctored by the lebovits family to change the context in which Sam’s words were spoken."
(A recent story about the case in the New Yorker contained an admission by a private investigator employed by the Lebovitses that he bugged Kellner's van.)
Samuel Norich, The Forward's publisher and CEO, said the paper stands by the article.
"We believe this lawsuit is without merit," he told The Jewish Week. "Our article treated all parties in this dispute — including Mr. Kellner — fairly and we stand by our reporting."
Kellner is seeking compensatory and punitive damages, as well legal fees and any other “relief” the court deems fair.
Note: This story was updated on Nov. 17 to include The Forward's response.