By Pervaiz Shallwani (Wall Street Journal)
November 29, 2012
In an unexpected twist, four men were questioned Thursday for illegally taking cellphone photos during the sexual-abuse trial of a respected ultra-Orthodox Jewish counselor, including one shot that captures the alleged victim testifying on the stand.
The four were being questioned by investigators Thursday and were expected to be charged with criminal contempt, a law-enforcement official said.
Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice John Ingram halted the trial of Nechemya Weberman, 54 years old, after learning that courtroom photos were shot and distributed over the Internet. The judge then cleared the courtroom and made the roughly 50 spectators check their phones with court officers. The trial was halted for about 30 minutes and resumed in the afternoon.
“It’s against the law for people to take photos in the courtroom,” Justice Ingram scolded the audience. “This is not a game. This is a very serious case.”
The photos are only the latest turn in a trial that has put a spotlight on Brooklyn’s Satmar Hasidic community, an ultra-Orthodox sect of Judaism, and resulted in numerous alleged intimidation attempts against the accuser and her family.
In a separate incident, four men were charged in June after they allegedly tried to buy the silence of the young woman and her husband, whom she married in October.
The 17-year-old has accused Mr. Weberman of sexually abusing her dozens of times in his Williamsburg office over a three-year span beginning when she was 12. Defense attorneys have argued the accuser singled out their client and the Satmar sect because of its ultra-Orthodox policies.
The four men are accused of taking at least two photos on Wednesday and Thursday and publishing them on the Internet, the judge said. One out-of-focus shot shows the accuser on the stand Wednesday. Another shows Mr. Weberman in the courtroom with one of his attorneys.
The four men were carrying nine cellphones, all of which were confiscated and held as evidence in a potential criminal proceeding.
The four were detained during the duration of Thursday’s proceedings and brought before the judge afterwards. The judge said he wouldn’t hold the four in contempt of court, but ordered them never to come into his courtroom with a camera phone and handed them over to Brooklyn prosecutors.
“It’s like closing the barn door after everyone has left,” Justice Ingram told the four. “This is now on the Internet. It’s probably been streamed all over the world.”