By Peter Kohn (Australian Jewish News)
September 24, 2015
The ultra-Orthodox Adass Israel School is facing a significant financial blow with the prospect of multiple major damages payouts over alleged sexual abuse by a former principal.
Adass could be up for the payments to former students after news that a second civil trial by an alleged victim of Malka Leifer might be on the cards.
The Supreme Court of Victoria last week awarded more than $1.2 million in damages to a former student who was sexually assaulted by Leifer on numerous occasions between 2003 and 2006.
Nick Mazzeo from legal firm Lennon Mazzeo, which represented the plaintiff, has told media he has been hired by another alleged victim of Leifer who was a former student and former teacher at Adass.
Meanwhile, lawyers for Leifer, who has been under house arrest in Israel since August 2014, are battling attempts to have her extradited to Victoria to face 74 counts relating to her sexual abuse of Adass pupils.
Extradition hearings in Israel have been delayed, with Leifer’s lawyers citing their client’s ill health. A new hearing has been scheduled for the end of October.
A committee of the school organised Leifer’s departure to Israel in 2008, within hours of her sexual misconduct becoming public, earning the condemnation of Justice Jack Rush in handing down his judgment.
The Supreme Court judge lamented “the destructive and evil nature of [Leifer’s] sexual abuse of the plaintiff over a period of years” and said the Adass school showed “disgraceful, contumelious behaviour demonstrating a complete disregard of Leifer’s victims, of which the plaintiff was one. The conduct demonstrates a disdain for due process of criminal investigation in this state.”
Justice Rush ordered the Adass school to pay the victim $1,024,428 in compensation for her past and ongoing suffering. He awarded exemplary damages to deter future offenders; $150,000 was awarded against Leifer, and $100,000 against the school, bringing the total damages payout to more than $1,274,000.
An exact final figure was still being worked on between the parties last week and there is a legal question as to whether the Adass school, as Leifer’s employer, is vicariously liable for the $150,000 in damages the Supreme Court has ordered Leifer to pay, if the fugitive former headmistress does not comply with the court’s orders.
The AJN understands the compensatory damages are covered by the school’s insurance policy, but the exemplary damages might not be. However, if the school has to pay the exemplary damages, it would not place its continued operations in danger. Financial supporters of Adass might be asked to help out.
Executive Council of Australian Jewry president Robert Goot said the judgment “paints a damning picture of deplorable conduct by the school, and those responsible for running it”.
Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV) president Jennifer Huppert stated: “Although the Adass Israel School is not affiliated with the JCCV, events at Adass concern all members of the community. The JCCV believes very strongly that Malka Leifer must be brought back to Australia to face justice.”