The attorney for convicted child molester Jesse Friedman argued before New York’s top court Wednesday for access to prosecutors’ entire file on his client’s case as Friedman tries to prove his innocence decades after pleading guilty in a Great Neck sex abuse scandal.
Lawyers presented arguments on questions such as whether the state Freedom of Information Law required disclosure of certain records to Friedman or whether they were confidential.
Manhattan attorney Ronald Kuby said prosecutors never showed anyone involved in the case was a confidential source, “except their own sort of unique notion that anyone who talks to the police department expects confidentiality, which is an expectation that is belied by law.”
However, the Nassau district attorney’s office countered that Friedman, 48, of Bridgeport, Connecticut, isn’t entitled to all the documents in his file.
Assistant District Attorney Judith Sternberg contended before the state Court of Appeals in Albany that releasing the records would invade victims’ privacy.
Prosecutors also have said that while Friedman would have had access to certain documents if he had gone to trial, he shouldn’t be entitled to them now following his guilty plea nearly three decades ago.
“Their parents gave permission for them to testify believing that this testimony was going to be secret, that their privacy was always going to be protected,” Sternberg said of child witnesses.
Friedman pleaded guilty in 1988 to sexually abusing boys who took computer classes in his family’s home and he spent 13 years in prison. His father Arnold also pleaded guilty and committed suicide in prison.
Friedman said after his release he pleaded guilty to avoid life in prison and said police manipulated children into making false statements.
His claim got a boost after the release of the 2003 Academy Award-nominated documentary “Capturing the Friedmans,” which raised questions about techniques detectives used to question child witnesses.
In 2013, state Supreme Court Justice F. Dana Winslow ordered the district attorney’s office to release “every piece of paper” in Friedman’s file to him, including grand jury minutes, but without the names of complaining witnesses who asked for confidentiality.
Prosecutors challenged the decision, and in 2015, the Second Judicial Department Appellate Division in Brooklyn reversed the ruling. It found prosecutors had met a burden of showing statements by nontestifying witnesses are confidential and not subject to release under New York’s FOIL law.
Friedman’s attorney argued Wednesday that in three other appeals courts around the state, records are available unless they relate to a witness who was promised confidentiality. But Sternberg called the Second Judicial Department’s ruling “long-established.”
Separately, a Nassau judge in 2014 granted Friedman a hearing on his claim of innocence, but that has been on hold as the records issue remains pending.
Former district attorney Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City) ordered a Friedman conviction review after a federal court said evidence suggested a likelihood of a wrongful conviction, but the review found in 2013 that Friedman’s conviction was justified.
It was while that review was underway in 2012 that Friedman filed a FOIL request for all case documents.
The Court of Appeals’ decision is expected before year’s end.