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.