Melbourne lawyer guilty of misconduct

March 25, 2016 by J-Wire Staff
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A Melbourne solicitor who rebuked a Jewish victim of child sexual abuse for helping police prosecute another Jew has been found guilty of professional misconduct.

Acting president judge of the Victorian Civil and Administration Tribunal Pamela Jenkins said that comments made by Alex Lewenberg had no place in 21st century law.

She said that “as a legal practitioner to suggest to that members of the Jewish community should close ranks and decline to assist in the prosecution of charges of this nature is truly shocking.”

Alex Lewenberg

Alex Lewenberg

Lewenberg had been acting for David Cyprys, a former employee of Melbourne’s Yeshivah College who was sentenced in 2013 to five and a half years non-parole prison sentence having been found guilty of the sexual abuse of children at the college.

The judge told the tribunal that if Lewenberg’s viewpoint had prevailed “it not only would have had the capacity to hamper the prosecution of a child sex offender but also to have allowed the offending to continue for longer than it might otherwise have done”.

J-Wire reported in November last year that Lewenberg had been reported as telling one of Cyprys’s victims that Jews should not help police prosecute other Jews. Media reports at the time said that Lewenberg referred to the tradition of mesira which proclaims that you do not assist others against the people of Abraham.”

But a leading rabbi told J-Wire recently that mesira did not apply in criminal cases in western democracies.

Lewenberg had admitted two charges of misconduct at common law according to Melbourne’s Herald Sun newspaper but failed in his attempt to contest charges of professional misconduct at a VCAT hearing last week. He told the hearing that he did not dispute the comments but claimed they had been taken out of context.

Michelle Meyer

Michelle Meyer

Michelle Meyer, the CEO of child sexual abuse advocacy group Tzedek, told J-Wire: “Tzedek, as an advocacy service for survivors of child sexual abuse, is deeply concerned about any attempt to dissuade a victim from giving evidence or cooperating with the police or giving evidence in a criminal matter such as child abuse on the false assertion that the witness has some religious obligation to withhold their testimony or cooperation.

From a religious standpoint, anyone encouraging non-cooperation with the justice system is undermining one of the seven Noahide laws that Judaism regards as having been commanded by G-d to all nations – the obligation to set up a system of justice.

Jews, especially, should be supporting the Australian justice system and especially condemning especially Jewish lawyers who undermine it, both for the above reason and also because, in the context of child sexual abuse, there have been numerous public statements by rabbis and rabbinic organisations that mesirah does not apply in such cases.

That is the theory, but in practice, victims who speak out are still re-victimised and shunned within the Ultra-Orthodox communities and called “moser” for doing do. Any  suggestion that child abuse not be reported on such grounds runs contrary to  both Jewish law and civil law.

As both Jews and loyal citizens, we must be seen to support the Australian legal system, which treats all citizens, Jews included, as equal before the law (making the entire concept of mesirah archaic and irrelevant nowadays), and we must be seen to repudiate remarks such as attributed to Lewenberg, asserting the contrary.

And as caring human beings, we must also stand up and cry “foul” when Jewish witnesses and/or victims are intimidated from seeking justice in a context of trying to defend the indefensible, especially when the intimidation is from other Jews under the guise of invoking the Jewish law of mesirah.

Tzedek fully endorses the argument made by Nicholas Green, QC, appeared in the matter on behalf of the applicant, the Legal Services Commissioner. He was reported by Tom Cowie of The Age as having said that a criminal justice system where some parts of society show “misguided solidarity” and do not help police was “disgraceful and dishonourable” to the legal profession. “We say that there is just no room in a contemporary society for conduct of that kind,” he said.

Former CEO and co-founder of Tzedek Manny Waks added: “It’s important to demonstrate that no one is above the law – not rabbis, not leaders, not lawyers. Well done to the courageous victim for pursuing justice. Hopefully this incident will serve as a warning to others, and encourage victims to come forward.”

The matter will return to court next month when submissions will be made with regard to appropriate sanctions.

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