Leifer: Psych panel decision adjourned

Leifer: Psych panel decision adjourned

A Jerusalem District Court judge has given a one-month extension to the psychiatric panel assessing Malka Leifer’s fitness to stand trial for extradition.

Former principal Malka Leifer, wanted in Australia for child sex abuse crimes, seen at the Jerusalem District Court, February 14, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Former principal Malka Leifer, wanted in Australia for child sex abuse crimes, seen at the Jerusalem District Court, February 14, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A psychiatric panel notified the Jerusalem District Court on Tuesday that it had been unaware of a Tuesday deadline for it to present its conclusion on whether alleged sex offender Malka Leifer has been feigning mental illness in order to avoid extradition to Australia.

The medical board had been slated to present its findings at a hearing on Tuesday morning, as scheduled over three months ago. However, with dozens of journalists and interested parties packed into the courtroom, Judge Chana Lomp entered briefly only to read aloud a letter from the head of the panel, Northern District chief psychiatrist Amir Ben Ephraim, who said that he and his two colleagues needed additional time to properly examine Leifer.

A private investigator tracked Malka Leifer as she spoke on the phone, while sitting on a bench in Bnei Brak, on December 14, 2017.

Lomp announced that the panel would have until January 10 to hand down their recommendation and that a hearing to discuss the conclusions would be held on January 14.

Leifer’s accusers responded with disgust to the announcement, saying they had been waiting anxiously for Tuesday’s court date – the 62nd since Leifer was first arrested in Israel in 2014.

Australian sisters Nicole Meyer (left) and Dassi Erlich take part in a demonstration on March 13, 2019, outside the Jerusalem District Court after a hearing for Malka Leifer, a former girls school principal wanted for sexual abuse in Australia. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“We feel sick with anxiety. Three months waiting for this day. Who didn’t get the memo? Was this intentional?” tweeted Dassi Erlich, who has led a public campaign to extradite her former principal back to Australia, where she faces 74 charges of sex abuse.

“Will it actually go ahead? How much longer can we hold on??” she added in a separate statement.

The nature of the delays in the Leifer case have been a cause of strain in relations between Jerusalem and Canberra. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison last month called on Israel to wrap the case up swiftly.

In a Monday interview with the Kan public broadcaster, Australian Attorney-General Christian Porter said, “There is no denying that there is a very significant level of frustration in Australia among victims, among the wider public who these [alleged] offences are well known to … that progress has been as slow as it has, unfortunately.”

Dassi Erlich (left) with Prime Minister Scott Morrison and sister Nicole Meyer.

“The Jewish community is frustrated that today marks yet another delay,” said Zionist Federation of Australia president Jeremy Leibler in a statement. “Leifer has been allowed to carry on this farce for way too long. She needs to return to Australia to face trial. The Jewish community stands with the survivors and their campaign to bring Malka Leifer back to Australia to face justice.”

Last week, the Supreme Court upheld a ruling ordering Leifer to appear before the psychiatric panel, rejecting an appeal from the 52-year-old’s attorneys against a Jerusalem court decision. Leifer was brought before the panel on Wednesday.

In 2000, Leifer left Israel to work at the all-girls Adass Israel ultra-Orthodox school in Melbourne. When allegations of sexual abuse against her began to surface eight years later, members of the school board purchased the mother of eight a plane ticket back to Israel, allowing her to avoid being charged.

A private investigator tracked Malka Leifer as she did shopping in Bnei Brak on December 14, 2017.

She was arrested in Israel in 2014 after Australia filed for extradition, but a Jerusalem court suspended the proceedings in 2016, deeming her mentally unfit to stand trial. She was rearrested in 2018 after being filmed appearing to lead a fully functional life.

Jerusalem District Court Judge Chana Lomp ruled in October that the evidence regarding Leifer’s health was inconclusive and therefore a board of psychiatric experts would be appointed to determine whether the former principal has been faking mental incompetence.

Both the prosecution and defense opposed the appointment of a new panel, arguing that sufficient evidence had been submitted to reach a verdict.

The state has relied on the legal opinions of three district psychiatrists issued over the last two years that determined that Leifer is mentally fit to face justice.

Leifer’s attorneys, meanwhile, cited testimony from prison doctors, who say that she takes the highest dosage of anti-psychotic medication. They also flew in several attorneys from around the world to argue that Leifer is not mentally competent.

Adass Israel ultra-Orthodox girls school headmistress Malka Leifer (left) with her students, among them Nicole Meyer (centre) in 2003. (Courtesy)

Her defence lawyers, Yehuda Fried and Tal Gabay, have dismissed the undercover film of Leifer and insist that she suffers from mental illness, but that the debilitating panic attacks that she experiences largely occur when she is in situations of stress, such as in prison or at court hearings.

In convening the psychiatric panel, Lomp agreed to the state’s request that Jerusalem District chief psychiatrist Jacob Charnes be barred from any involvement in the panel despite the court being under his jurisdiction.

Charnes has changed his opinion on Leifer’s mental fitness three times, dragging out the proceedings that have lasted over five years. Last July, police recommended Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman be indicted for fraud and breach of trust over suspicions that he pressured officials in his office, including Charnes, to prevent Leifer from being extradited.

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