The new Brooklyn district attorney, Ken Thompson, ended Sam Kellner’s three-year legal ordeal last month, dismissing his criminal case after a six-week investigation concluded that the witnesses against him “lacked credibility to such a degree” that the case could not be prosecuted. Kellner is the whistleblower from a chasidic community who pressed charges against Baruch Lebovits for alleged sexual abuse against Kellner’s young son. That brave act turned into a nightmare when Kellner himself was later charged with perjury and extortion.
According to Kellner’s attorneys, in a conference in chambers before the dismissal of those charges, the prosecutor handling the case told the judge that Kellner had been indicted on what was, in effect, manufactured and perjured testimony.
This was a conclusion The Jewish Week, through the meticulous reporting of special correspondent Hella Winston, reached over a year ago, based on an analysis of district attorney and court records, as well as her own extensive, independent investigation. All indications were that the case against Kellner was cooked up by powerful and well-connected supporters of Lebovits — a convicted chasidic child molester — to get him out of jail. That these supporters found such a willing ally in former district attorney Charles Hynes, under whose nose they had also successfully intimidated and then turned an alleged victim of Lebovits against Kellner, is perhaps the most disturbing aspect of this sordid affair.
During his run for office, Thompson made the issue of prosecutorial conduct a centerpiece of his campaign. He has begun putting together a special unit in his office to review possible wrongful convictions, and the New York Law Journal recently reported that he is seeking a half-million dollars to staff it, telling members of the City Council, “We need to give people confidence in the convictions that come out of the Brooklyn office.”
Fortunately for Kellner, whose indictment wreaked havoc on his and his family’s life, not to mention the small community of Orthodox anti-sex abuse advocates and victims, his case was dismissed before an unjust plea deal or verdict could be reached —a fate that wrongfully convicted Brooklyn men like Jabbar Collins, David Ranta and William Lopez were not so lucky to be spared. However, if Thompson is serious about restoring public confidence in the Brooklyn criminal justice system, we believe it is incumbent on him to conduct a full investigation into just how and why Sam Kellner came to be indicted in the first place. In addition, the probe must hold to account those within Kellner’s own community, the district attorney’s office and the wider legal community who were responsible for this perversion of the criminal justice system.
The people of Brooklyn — and most of all its vulnerable child victims — deserve nothing less.