Nassau County Court Judge Teresa Corrigan, who was presiding over the actual innocence hearing of Jesse Friedman, has recused herself as judge and asked to have the case reassigned.
“Mr. Friedman deserves his day in court. The public deserves the right to believe that the case is being decided without concerns of impartiality from the court. There is now a potential appearance that the court’s impartiality could be questioned. As such, I hereby recuse myself from this matter. This case is being returned to the Clerk’s office for re-assignment.” See decision http://bit.ly/1K8jxGe .
Friedman’s team which includes filmmaker Andrew Jarecki, attorney Ron Kuby, and others, believe Judge Corrigan realized that the appearance of impartiality was too overwhelming to continue in her role…She was tied tightly former Nassau DA Kathleen Rice, as well as current acting DA Madeline Singas, and even supervised, when she herself worked in the DA’s office, the original Friedman prosecutor, Joe Onorato. We are now hopeful that the new judge assigned to Jesse Friedman’s case will review the evidence of his innocence on its merits, free of the biases displayed by the District Attorney’s office in their recent court filings, as well as the three-year conviction review process that was found to be seriously flawed.
The decision by Judge Corrigan comes after Friedman filed a second motion asking the judge to remove herself from the case in March 2015. Corrigan had denied the first motion in October 2014, but acceded to the second request, which included an affidavit by Professor Bruce Green, one of the country’s leading experts on judicial ethics and Director of the Stein Center for Law and Ethics at Fordham University School of Law. He had cited the close association of the judge with four key players in Friedman case, all of whom worked with her while she was at the Nassau District Attorney’s office prior to her election to the bench.See Green Affirmation, http://bit.ly/1EvA715.
In 1988, in the midst of a national hysteria regarding false allegations of child sexual abuse in schools and day care centers (epitomized by the now-overturned McMartin Preschool case), police alleged that Jesse Friedman, his father Arnold, and three other teenagers had violently abused hundreds of children attending after-school computer classes at the Friedmans’ Great Neck home, though over a period of five years, no child or parent had ever complained, and no medical or physical evidence was ever produced.
Eighteen year-old Jesse Friedman, then a freshman studying music and psychology at SUNY Purchase, was charged with 243 counts of child sexual abuse, and forced to plead guilty after being threatened with life in prison by Judge Abigail Boklan who, despite having heard no evidence in the case, was convinced of Jesse Friedman’s guilt. Friedman served 13 years in maximum-security prisons and remains branded as a Level III “violent sexual predator.”
After Friedman fought for decades to clear his name, in 2010 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit issued an extraordinary opinion, concluding that there was a “reasonable likelihood Jesse Friedman was wrongfully convicted.”
Part of the mountain of new evidence discovered or brought forward by Friedman’s legal team, is a complete recantation from Ross Goldstein, the prosecution’s only adult witness, and more than thirty eyewitnesses to the computer classes stating that no abuse occurred – despite prosecution claims that children were raped in “plain view” of the entire class.Goldstein, who was charged with 118 counts of sexual abuse of children, now says that:
“…Every single thing found in my testimony was untrue and said by me at the time to avoid a trial. I never saw Jesse or Arnold Friedman abuse any children, nor did I ever sexually abuse any children.”
“I did not witness Jesse or anyone else commit any crimes in the Friedman home with any computer student. My testimony before the grand jury was a result of tremendous and unrelenting pressure and intimidation by the police and district attorney’s office in which I was eventually coerced to lie about crimes taking place in order to try to save myself and be granted the YO [Youthful Offender] status deal that was being offered to me.”
After the DA’s three-year review of the case by DA Rice’s office, said to have been supervised by an outside Advisory Panel, Barry Scheck, the most prominent member of the Panel and co-founder of the Innocence Project, broke ranks to reveal that the panel members had not been shown the vast majority of evidence in the case and had not even interviewed most witnesses, but instead had been asked to rely only on the DA’s distillations of that material. Scheck submitted an affidavit with Judge Corrigan asking the Court to undertake a “full evidentiary hearing” and release to Friedman’s lawyers the original case files that have been kept secret by the DA for over 27 years.
In Scheck’s words: “I believe it would be desirable for the court and the parties, utilizing whatever procedural mechanisms the court deems suitable, to review materials not available to the Advisory Panel, such as grand jury minutes, the original case file, and the results of the re-investigation to aid in finally resolving, to the extent possible the issue of Jesse Friedman’s guilt or innocence.”
Scheck joined a chorus of other respected voices in criminal justice in requesting the disclosure of these files:
- In 2010, the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit issued a decision stating there was a “reasonable likelihood Jesse Friedman was wrongfully convicted” and calling for the case files to be opened and the evidence presented at a new hearing. DA Rice refused.
- In 2013, N. Scott Banks, the former law secretary for the Judge who convicted Jesse, wrote a letter of support requesting that Nassau County Supreme Court Justice Winslow “grant Mr. Friedman’s application, and direct the District Attorney to disclose this extremely relevant evidence to his attorneys and provide a level of transparency very much needed in this matter.”
- In 2013, after reviewing the documents and holding multiple hearings on the issue, Nassau County Supreme Court Justice F. Dana Winslow conveyed from the bench his grave concerns about the exculpatory nature of the materials withheld from Friedman, and ordered the disclosure of “every piece of paper” with Friedman’s name on it. DA Rice appealed the decision to the Appellate Court, Second Department. Oral arguments were held in the case February 10, 2015. A decision in the case is expected shortly.