By Hella Winston (The Jewish Week)
June 26, 2012
After deliberating for less than half an hour, a six-person jury Tuesday afternoon acquitted Rabbi Yehuda Kolko on charges he violated an order of protection requiring him to refrain from contact with a boy whose family brought sex abuse charges against him in 2007.
Rabbi Kolko was allowed in that case to plead to reduced charges of child endangerment and received three years probation, but did not have to register as a sex offender. The protection order was also part of the plea deal.
In the current case, Rabbi Kolko was charged with two counts of criminal contempt stemming from allegations he had, on two separate occasions, menaced the boy by glaring at him on the street — in one instance for two minutes with his arms crossed, according to both the father and son's testimony in court.
The jurors were not allowed to know anything about the underlying crime that led to the protection order in order to avoid prejudicing the case, and throughout the trial Rabbi Kolko's lawyer, Jeffrey Schwartz, sought to portray the boy's father as having a vendetta against the rabbi and seeking to manipulate the system to get him removed from the neighborhood.
Schwartz's strategy seems to have worked. The one juror who agreed to speak to The Jewish Week said that she believed the case was "all nonsense" and that the allegations against Rabbi Kolko were "payback," though she said the jury had not been allowed to speculate for what.
When the juror was told that Rabbi Kolko had been charged with sexually abusing the boy, she replied softly, "Oh, wow," but quickly added, "there was no evidence for that."
The Jewish Week approached another juror who declined to speak but, when informed of Rabbi Kolko's prior conviction, said, "Now that makes sense."
A call to Schwartz was not immediately returned, but in his summation he argued that Rabbi Kolko had not intended to violate the protection order and that his actions with respect to the boy on those occasions did not constitute a crime.
When reached for comment, the boy's father — who was not in court at the time of the verdict — first praised the two assistant district attorneys on the case. "They were superb," he told The Jewish Week, noting that they took "excellent care" of him and his son.
"But," he added, "Kolko is guilty as hell. If only District Attorney Hynes had prosecuted the sex abuse case in 2008, we wouldn't be here today because clearly he has great people working for him who would have done the job."