The New York State Court of Appeals on Tuesday reversed a decision by a lower appeals court that barred Jesse Friedman from gaining access to his case files, nearly 30 years after the former Great Neck resident’s guilty plea in a child sex abuse scandal.
The lower court had ruled that the district attorney’s office, citing privacy rights for those who testified, did not need to release the files to Friedman, who sought the files through a Freedom of Information Law request.
But now, with the ruling, the Court of Appeals is asking the Nassau County Supreme Court to review Friedman’s Freedom of Information request to open his files.
“This decision is an emphatic triumph for the principles of open government, and creates statewide uniformity rules of disclosure,” said Ron Kuby, Friedman’s lawyer. “It is a triumph for the wrongfully convicted, who will have a far easier task obtaining essential documents.”
Kuby added that the ruling is also a “stinging rebuke to successive Nassau County district attorneys who created a moral panic over nonexistent sex abuse allegations.”
Kuby had argued that the confidentiality exemption to public information law does not apply in this case and that the files not disclosed could prove Friedman’s innocence, according to a court brief.
Assistant District Attorney Judith Sternberg had argued in court that the children only testified because their privacy would be protected and that disclosing records could have a chilling effect, discouraging victims from coming forward, Politico previously reported.
In a statement, the district attorney’s office expressed disappointment in the ruling and expressed support for legislation to “explicitly protect” victims of child sex crimes who come forward.
“Jesse Friedman pled guilty, detailed his crimes on Geraldo, and a comprehensive review by prosecutors and an independent panel of experts found his conviction to be just. Public disclosure of child sex crime victims’ statements will humiliate and retraumatize vulnerable kids, and these sensitive records should not be available to convicted sex offenders, the media, or anyone else,” District Attorney Madeline Singas said in a statement. “Coming forward to report sexual abuse is incredibly hard, and making victims’ statements presumptively public records will deter victims’ cooperation with law enforcement.”
Police accused Jesse Friedman, his father, Arnold, and three others of abusing hundreds of children in after-school computer classes in the Friedmans’ basement in a 1987 case. The Friedmans pleaded guilty to abusing 13 boys in 1988.
After serving 13 years in prison, Friedman was released on parole in 2001 and he retracted his guilty plea. He said law enforcement officials coerced his confession and manipulated alleged victims into making false claims.
Arnold Friedman committed suicide in prison in 1995.
In 2010, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit said there might be evidence suggesting Friedman was wrongfully convicted.
A three-year investigation by former District Attorney Kathleen Rice’s office rejected that notion, but representatives for Friedman said the “Rice report” had falsehoods.
F. Dana Winslow, a Nassau County Supreme Court justice who reviewed files related to the Friedmans’ case, ordered the county district attorney’s office to give “every single piece of paper” related to the case to Friedman in 2013.
An appellate court then ruled that the district attorney’s office did not need to release the files to Friedman.
The legal saga followed the release of the 2003 documentary “Capturing the Friedmans,” which was nominated for an Academy Award and directed by Andrew Jarecki.
Jesse Friedman and his legal team intend to pursue an innocence hearing.