A New Jersey appellate court Thursday granted Rabbi Baruch Lanner’s emergency request to be free on bail pending the appeal of his conviction of sexually abusing two teenaged girls while he was their principal in a New Jersey yeshiva high school.
In effect, Mary Catherine Cuff, Superior Court judge of the Appellate Division, agreed with Rabbi Lanner’s defense lawyer’s arguments that there were “substantial” questions about the trial process that led to the 52-year-old rabbi’s seven-year prison sentence imposed by Superior Court Judge Paul F. Chaiet last week. A second Appellate Division judge, Michael Winkelstein, concurred in the opinion.
“Having concluded that the case involves a substantial question that should be determined by the appellate court concerning the instruction to the jury on the second degree endangering the welfare of a child charge, we find that defendant satisfies the criteria for admission to bail pending appeal,” Judge Cuff ruled Thursday.
Judge Cuff also said that she didn’t believe releasing Rabbi Lanner would endanger the community.
“Our review of the record reveals that the sentencing judge found and the prosecutor concedes that the safety of any person or of the community will not be seriously threatened if the defendant remains on bail and that there is no significant risk of defendant’s flight,” she stated.
Rabbi Lanner was in a prison in Trenton on Thursday. It was not known how quickly he would be released, defense attorney Nathan Dershowitz told The Jewish Week.
As directed by Judge Cuff, Judge Chaiet raised Rabbi Lanner’s previous bail to $150,000 from $100,000. The extra bail was posted Thursday by Newark Dr. Nathan Zemel, the brother of one of the defense attorneys, Fred Zemel.
Dershowitz called the seven-year sentence extreme, and said there were several serious legal questions about the “overreaching“ charges brought against Rabbi Lanner by Monmouth County Prosecutor Peter Boser and flaws in instructions given to the jury by Judge Chaiet.
Dershowitz also said he found it unusual that Judge Chaiet refused to grant bail at sentencing last week.
“Having reviewed the trial transcript instead of merely reading press coverage, I was convinced there are substantial legal issues involved in this case, and I’m glad that two appellate judges have agreed there are substantial issues which may well result in the reversal of the conviction for endangering the welfare of a child,” Dershowitz said.
Rabbi Lanner was convicted by a 12-person jury of endangering the welfare of a child – the most serious charge against him – in connection with the abuse of both students, one who was 14 and one 15 when they attended Hillel Yeshiva in Ocean Township, N.J., between 1992 and 1996. The girls testified that Rabbi Lanner touched their breasts and thighs over their clothes, and called them at home making inappropriate advances.
However, the jury convicted Lanner on the lesser charge of sexual abuse of the older girl, now 23, but not the younger girl, now 21. The defense team argues that is an inconsistency that should overturn the conviction. Chaiet and Boser disagree.