A judge has dismissed a defamation lawsuit that sex offender Jesse Friedman filed last year against the Nassau district attorney's office.
State Supreme Court Justice Karen Murphy found that, by law, former DA Kathleen Rice and her office were shielded by immunity from civil damages while preparing a report that came out of a review of Friedman's conviction.
Murphy's Feb. 24 ruling also found that statements from two of Rice's media relations employees were protected by a "qualified privilege" covering statements to the media -- a shield she said applied because she didn't find statements malicious by law.
Friedman, now 45, pleaded guilty in 1988 to sexually abusing boys who took computer classes in his family's Great Neck home. The Connecticut man got out of prison in 2001 and is trying to prove his innocence. He says police manipulated children into making false claims against him and he pleaded guilty to avoid spending life in prison.
Friedman's attorney, Ronald Kuby of Manhattan, said the ruling granting Rice immunity effectively placed her and her staff above the law.
"As long as courts are willing to grant such immunity, prosecutors will continue to engage in misconduct," he said.
Separately, a different judge has granted Friedman a hearing on his innocence claim. A panel of appellate justices also recently heard arguments as Friedman lobbied for them to enforce an order State Supreme Court Justice F. Dana Winslow issued in August 2013. It told Rice's office to turn over "every piece of paper" in Friedman's case file to him except victims' names.
In his June 2014 lawsuit, Friedman alleged Rice defamed him in a June 2013 report that had concluded after a review that he had been justifiably convicted. Rice's findings had cited a psychiatric report calling Friedman a "psychopath," and said he had pornography in prison.
But Friedman's suit claimed the psychiatric report came from "a novice psychologist." His lawsuit also named as defendants Rice employees John Byrne and Shams Tarek, claiming the media relations representatives made statements about Friedman having pornography in prison they knew or should have known were false.
In the August 2013 proceeding before Winslow, the district attorney's office acknowledged for the first time that prison officials had acquitted Friedman of possessing pornography. But Murphy's ruling said any discrepancies in media statements by Byrne and Tarek "are minor shortcomings in the long history of plaintiff's attempts to set aside his guilty plea, following his admission of guilt to a national television audience."
Acting District Attorney Madeline Singas said the ruling recognizes the conviction review process "as a critical function of a prosecutor's office" and her office stands behind its Friedman case review.