Dear Mr. Thompson,
Constitutional lawyer and law professor, Marci A. Hamilton, laid into you for the “sweetheart deal” your office gave to Meilech Schnitzler who assaulted anti-abuse activist, Rabbi Nuchem Rosenberg. Drawing on my Frum Follies article and the New York Times report, she wrote:
There is the specter in Brooklyn of a sweetheart plea deal for the criminal who threw bleach on the face of the bravest advocate of sex abuse survivors in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community……
The day after the Weberman verdict, Meilech Schnitzler approached Rosenberg and threw bleach in his face. But for the quick action of a person who threw a cup of water on Rosenberg’s face, he might be blind today.
In a move that has sent chills through the ultra-Orthodox survivor community, Thompson cut a deal with Schnitzler that will hardly deter future violence against the survivors’ advocates. Instead of serving the years in prison… Schnitzler… received nothing but unsupervised probation. To quote Rosenberg, “Probation in our circles is a joke.”
Mr. Thompson, your office will insist it handled this case like any other. However, I doubt that claim. You breached your own standards by not properly notifying the victim of the deal. I spoke to a close associate of Rabbi Rosenberg the day before the plea bargain, and he assumed yet another routine court appearance. If he had known about the deal I am sure Nuchem would have been talking to this associate who he usually contacts several times a day.
In justifying the deal to the New York Times the office of the DA claimed, “Rabbi Rosenberg’s injuries were not permanent.” Thankfully, the assault failed and he was not left blind. However, Rabbi Rosenberg is still visiting physicians about the after-effects and he is still on a regimen of eye drops to alleviate persistent discomfort. In the weeks after the attack, he was in excruciating pain while recovering from his injuries and he was on a pain relief regimen.
This was a premeditated assault. According to the New York Times “Schnitzler’s lawyer, Israel Fried, said his client had been cleaning the outside of his store with bleach that morning and had thrown the cup during an argument with the rabbi.”
Really? According to a New York Times report at the time, “Primo Santiago, the manager of Roebling Liquors, at 311 Roebling Street, said that he saw the attack take place. He said he was unlocking his store when he saw a man rushing across the street with a cup of liquid.”
For the record, Roebling is a busy, wide, four-lane street.” It beggars the imagination to believe that someone would run that distance with a full cup of bleach in his hand, as if it was his water bottle. According to Rabbi Rosenberg, no words were exchanged. In fact, Schnitzler came up from behind, tapped him on the shoulder, waited for Rosenberg to turn around, and then threw the bleach.
In spite of the pre-meditated assault with a weapon (per indictment) and lingering harm, your Office let Schnitzler off without any jail time.
The District Attorney’s office seems to feel that nothing about Rabbi Rosenberg’s case required special attention. You treated it like an altercation gone bad with trivial consequences, rather than a premeditated assault aimed at blinding Rabbi Rosenberg. By the same logic, Menachem (Max) Stark’s murder was also just another case. But your office, in deference to the inflamed sensibilities of the Satmar community, fought for and got jurisdiction of the case from Nassau County. Normally, homicide cases are tried in the jurisdiction where the body is found.
Mr Thompson, we read you loud and clear: Hasidic murder victims merit special attention, but not Hasidic sex abuse victims, and especially not anti-abuse activists, or victims of intimidation. They get routine attention even though they are subjected to extraordinary harassment. Meawhile, those who obstruct justice, like Abraham Rubin, are celebrated by the Hasidic leaders whose events you attend.
Mr. Thompson, you promised a passion for justice when you were running for office. One of your campaign surrogates privately assured me that your office would take the effort to properly understand the orthodox community so it could effectively deal with child sex abuse. Another of your surrogates privately assured me that your office was going to be sensitive to how it was perceived by victims to overcome the Hynes-era reluctance to trust the DA.
Right now, I would definitely advise victims to trust your office to prosecute their cases. But I fear a potentially corrosive vicious cycle. The more you are seen palling with the orthodox leadership and the less you are seen confronting intimidation, the less your office will be trusted.
Mr. Thompson, please be the DA you can be and want to be. You do not need the votes of the ultra-orthodox block. You won your primary even though most of the ultra-orthodox votes went to Charles Hynes. I know you care. Please take the leap of faith and turn your sentiments into action. Your legacy will not be determined by the glib, opportunistic high-fives of the leadership. It will be determined by the gratitude of victims. Most important to your legacy will be the satisfaction of knowing there are kids who will have no idea of what you accomplished because they will pass through childhood carefree and unmolested.