Don’t Talk to the so-called Independent Investigators about Abuse at JOFA or the Detroit Federation

In the aftermath of the scandal of abuse/harassment of two previous executive directors by the sometime president, Bat Sheva Marcus, the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance (JOFA) announced an “external review” by the  Cozen O’Connor law firm.

While it has not been publicized, the Jewish Federation of Metro Detroit (JFMD), in response to complaints about misconduct by their Endowment Division’s Director of Philanthropy, Hy (Chaim Isaac) Safran, has authorized the prestigious Michigan law firm, Miller Canfield to speak to those with complaints about Hy. Complainants were directed to MC “Principal” Jennifer L. Sabourin according to a since-deleted April 2022 Instagram post by Brittani Schwartz. Others have confirmed to me reaching out to Ms Sabourin but quickly ending the initiative because they suspected the arrangement was designed to protect the federation, not the alleged victims.

In both cases I would advise against speaking to these firms. Their loyalty and their obligations are to protect the interests of their clients including minimizing their exposure to lawsuits for damages of all sorts. I am not saying that the firms will lie or be dishonest. But their sharing of findings will be asymmetric. Their clients will know all. The public will only know what the firms and their clients choose to put out there. 

I am not against all such external reviews. When Penn State initiated an independent review of sex abuse by assistant coach Jerry Sandusky, the follow up action included firing the president of the university and removing the campus statue of beloved Penn State football coach Joe Paterno because he covered up for Sandusky. But in that case an independent board, in no way implicated in the abuse, commissioned the review and acted on it. 

We don’t know who on the JOFA board is on the three-person committee liaising with Cozen O’Connor and how and to what extent they are entangled with other board members implicated in Marcus’ misconduct. In the case of the Detroit Federation, board member Gary Torgow is known to be close to Hy Safran with some considering him Hy’s mentor/defender.

There are some minimum requirements for a credible external investigation. There needs to be a statement of scope in terms of which period, which acts, which staff and board members. There needs to be a clear statement that all adverse findings will be part of the publicly released findings. In contrast, YU, the OU (re Lanner) and others usually come up with two reports, one for the public and one for the client who commissioned the report. The only acceptable omissions are the names and other identifying facts about victims of abuse, or of 3rd parties in no way culpable. Otherwise, such investigations can facilitate cover ups rather than accountability and reform.

As of early today (5/12/22) Neither JOFA nor their designated external reviewer has reached out to the two former executive directors about their mistreatment by Bat Sheva Marcus or the complicity of various board members. Nor have they identified which board members will liaise with the law firm, or the scope of the investigation and the committments for public release of info. JOFA has not met the minimal conditions for a credible investigation worth trusting.

15 thoughts on “Don’t Talk to the so-called Independent Investigators about Abuse at JOFA or the Detroit Federation

  1. This is not accurate. MIller Canfield was retained by Federation to undertake an investigation “independently”. Mr. Safran has zero to do with any of this. Thank you.

    • “Mr. Safran has zero to do with any of this” is a blatant lie. The investigation has been stalled only because “Mr. Safran” hit the woman who was organizing victims with an NDA. People are scared due to the litigious nature of Mr. Safran and his… Let’s say friends.

      If someone were to call the investigating attorney (as I have) they would say they were calling about the investigation related to Mr. Safran. She would ask questions about Mr. Safran.

    • How do you know this. Are you in fact, Hy Safran’s attny. If so, would it be accurate to say, that Miller Canfield was retained by Federation to investigate Hy Shafran independently (or in spite of Hy wishing they were not looking into allegations about him)?

      While you are at it, can you tell us how many NDA’s Hy has had you execute regarding allegations about him.

  2. @alex benson, are you asserting that Hy is not being investigated or that he is not privy to their findings?

  3. I was told, by Miller – Canfield, that any information I gave them could be made available to Mr. Safran and that they could not promise I would be anonymous.

    I recorded the conversation, actually, in case you need receipts.

    Alex, you should probably get back to dolling out Mr. Safran’s NDAs and leave this to the journists.

  4. If Alex Benson is indeed Hy’s attorney, he has a colored past all his own. In the link below you’ll find opinions and notices issued by the Michigan Attorney Discipline Board relating to Benson.

    Benson was suspended from practicing law between 2010-2011, and was reprimanded for other misconduct in 2021. According to one of the Board opinions, “disbarment is generally appropriate” for some of the conduct for which Benson was suspended. The concurring opinion stated that Benson “unquestionably committed a felony, and perhaps two.”

    Benson’s record with the Discipline Board seriously calls his integrity into question. Any victims who have communicated with Benson should keep a record of those interactions in the event he’s engaging in unethical behavior/professional misconduct aimed at silencing his client’s accusers.

    http://data.adbmich.org/CES6/default.aspx?sortf=@sysdate&sortd=false&q=@pnumber=43210

    • If Benson is Hy’s attorney, which I have heard from some sources, then it is a match made in heaven. According to the suspension ruling he seems to have anger management problems and falsified affidavits and got others to do the same.

  5. I’m curious to see what Jewish Federation of Metro Detroit will do regarding this investigation. If it is not about Hy Safran they should issue a statement stating as much. If it is, they should state that as well. A values based non-profit owes it to their community and board members to be transparent about what is going on within the organization.

    • I completely agree. Moreover if there are allegations about Hy Safran that justify hiring a pricey attorney to look into them, then they probably justify suspending Hy during the inquiry. My suspicion is that they are not per se concerned with Hy’s conduct unless there is likely to be publicized criminal prosecution but they are concerned to figure out if there was any misconduct with Federation employees that exposes them to civil suits which could either cost in court judgments or in publicity that could hurt fund raising. But as you say, they are not being open so all we can do is speculate on their motives and their commitments to action.

      Not knowing the inner workings of Federation decision making in this case I can only speculate. But in my experience with most institutions, one cannot count on a cheshbon hanefesh, but you can count on them being attentive to financial reckonings about liability.

      • As a member of SRE, the Jewish Federation of Metro Detroit should be following the SRE position of not using Non Disclosure Agreements (NDA’s) and not enforcing older NDA’s which cover up abuse, harassment, or discrimination. I have no idea what they do in practice, but I suspect they are not in compliance with the SRE policy.

  6. As a member of SRE, the Jewish Federation of Metro Detroit should be following the SRE position of not using Non Disclosure Agreements (NDA’s) and not enforcing older NDA’s which cover up abuse, harassment, or discrimination. I have no idea what they do in practice, but I suspect they are not in compliance with the SRE policy.

  7. Federation knew, because multiple women complained about Hy Safran over the years. They chose to believe him versus even hearing out the women.

    Federation, do something! Listen to the women who reached out over the years and ask them to share what happened. And if any of them can’t talk due to having signed something, pressure Hy Safran to release those women from the agreements. Innocent men don’t need NDA’s regarding their day to day activities…

    And innocent organizations don’t ask lawyers to do them a favor and help out their employee free of charge unless they’re scared of liability and need to shut the victims down, or else…

    • As a member of SRENetwork.org (Safety Respect and Equity) the J Federation of Metro Detroit should not be using Non Disclosure Agreements (NDA’s) to prevent public reporting of Abuse, Harassment or Discrimination. If such NDA’s were established in the past, they should release the affected individuals and publicly commit to not enforcing them. This appears to be the reason that the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance was kicked out of SREnetwork. Now it is possible that that an individual employee (e.g., HS) had them signed in his private capacity of course.

      It would be helpful if the Federation would confirm whether or not it is compliance with the standards of the SREnetwork since it is garnering free publicity ias a safe organization by being a member of SRE network

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