Jesse Friedman, who was wrongfully convicted for child sexual abuse in a mass hysteria case in 1988, chronicled in the Oscar nominated film, Capturing the Friedmans, filed a defamation suit against Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice for knowingly publishing false and defamatory statements in a report summarizing her review of Friedman’s 1988 conviction. The suit names Kathleen Rice, in her official capacity as Nassau DA and individually, as well as her public information officers John Byrne and Shams Tarek.
Rice’s Report and the accompanying press release issued in June 2013, included dozens of false statements. In one example, DA Rice made the fabricated claim that Jesse Friedman, “wrote, possessed and distributed” shocking pornography involving incest, bestiality, and child rape while in prison, and was punished for it. The DA provided as proof a printout of a series of shocking pornographic stories. The report was widely distributed to the public and leaked to the tabloid media by her office. The DA’s report also includes a false psychological evaluation by a discredited psychologist.
The DA’s office did not merely publish the defamatory material in the report, but highlighted it in press releases to poison the well against Jesse Friedman. Within a few days of releasing the report, the DA’s publicity officer John Byrne distributed copies of the alleged stories to the New York media causing sensational headlines.
Rice directed her subordinates to supply the text of these materials to, at least, the New York Times and the New York Post. In response to receipt of these materials, the New York Post published a series news stories under the headlines:
— Jailbird Perv a Smut Writer
— Convicted Child Molester Jesse Friedman Wrote Porno Stories During His Time In Prison
— DA: Convicted child molester Jesse Friedman found with porno stories during his time in prison.”
The stories provided details of the pornography and stated that Friedman “was disciplined in July 2000 after prison guards found the stomach-churning smut in his cell.” That same day, at least fourteen other publications with the headline “Perv was a ‘Horny’ Jailbird Smut Writer,” published variations of the story, each linking to the New York Post. The Associated Press, which reaches news outlets in hundreds of markets across the United States, also ran a story sourcing the material falsely released by DA Kathleen Rice.
A standard Google search of any of the text attributed to Jesse Friedman reveals instantly that it is material available on the Internet, written by and credited to someone else, whose email address appears at the bottom with an invitation to contact her. As the DA was well aware, Jesse Friedman was incarcerated at a maximum-security prison, and had no access to the Internet for downloading such stories, nor did he have an email address. Jesse Friedman did not “write,” “pen,” “possess,” nor “distribute” this material.
According to the defamation suit: “This claim arises from acts or omissions of the defendants, and alleges multiple false and defamatory statements that were designed to, and did, harm Friedman in his reputation, enjoyment of life, quality of life, and economic interests. These acts and omissions include publishing statements that Friedman was punished while in prison for writing and distributing horrific pornography that described acts similar to those for which Friedman was convicted, and statements alleging that Friedman was a psychopath. These were false and defamatory statements of material fact, and Rice and her agents knew, or it is highly likely that they knew, that these statements were false. The purpose of such statements, as noted by the Hon. Justice F. Dana Winslow, J.S.C., was to portray Friedman publicly as a “‘bad guy.’”
Friedman’s attorney, Ronald L. Kuby, said, “The DA falsely accused Jesse of having written bizarre pornography celebrating the very kinds of crimes of which he had been accused. And she timed the false claims so they appeared in the press at a time when they would have the greatest negative impact on Jesse – while all eyes in Long Island and elsewhere were watching for the DA’s three-year-delayed verdict in her so-called “unbiased review” of the Jesse Friedman case. The fact that they also showed these false materials to the members of a panel charged with overseeing the DA’s investigation, reveals the DA’s desire to undermine any fair re-evaluation of this case.”
When challenged on the statement in a later court hearing, rather than admit the mistake, the DA’s office accused Friedman’s counsel of forging the documents that disproved it. Days later, the DA’s office conceded that Friedman did not possess the pornography, could not possibly have penned the pornography, and was never punished for it in prison.
Denying Jesse Friedman’s request to overturn his wrongful conviction was tragically unfortunate, it is quite another to double down and distribute the most horrible lies and innuendos to the public, the New York Times and New York Post. The New York Times refused to publish the lies. The New York Post apparently did not care to check facts and contributed to this travesty…Lonnie Soury