As Malka Leifer fights extradition from Israel to Australia, her alleged victims continue to wait for the former school principal to face court in Melbourne.
In December 2019, court proceedings to extradite the former principal of the Adass Israel school in Melbourne were delayed again.
Malka Leifer faces 74 sexual assault charges, including rape, allegedly committed against students at the Orthodox Jewish school where she worked from 2001 until March 2008 when she fled to Israel.
Since then concerted efforts have been made to extradite Leifer to Melbourne.
Leading the call for her return to face Australia’s legal system are some of the former students allegedly abused by Leifer – Dassi Erlich and Nicole Meyer.
The Adass Israel school was first alerted to sexual abuse allegations against Leifer by a social worker whom Dassi Erlich was seeing for treatment. Other alleged victims then came forward, leading Victoria Police to investigate and then announce that Leifer was wanted on the 74 charges.
Since then, some of the victims have received payouts for damage arising from Leifer’s alleged actions.
In 2014, Leifer was placed under house arrest as Australia began extradition proceedings. But a series of challenges by Leifer’s legal team have seen her remain in Israel. Most recently, a psychiatric panel assessment to determine if Leifer is fit to stand trial was delayed in December 2019 and postponed until early 2020.
In March 2013, Nick Mazzeo of Mazzeo Lawyers led Dassi Erlich’s successful claim for damages for psychiatric injury resulting from the sexual abuse by Leifer. The claim was made against Leifer and the school.
Nick says Dassi’s abuse allegations were voiced after she married and moved to Israel and underwent some counselling after experiencing depressive bouts and suicidal thoughts. Having grown up in a protected, ultraorthodox Jewish community, Nick says that it was only as an adult that Dassi realised that Leifer’s actions amounted to sexual abuse.
“It was only when she commenced counselling overseas that she realised what the actions of the principal actually meant. Up until that point she really had no idea,” says Nick.
The school denied that the principal was an employee, or that the school was liable for Leifer’s action. Instead the school argued that Leifer was employed by a ‘congregation’ connected to the school that oversaw the school’s religious instruction.
The Supreme Court did not accept that the principal was removed in any way from the school and instead noted that she was the most powerful figure within the school. In a landmark ruling, the Supreme Court found that the school was directly and vicariously liable for the principal’s conduct.
“This is an extraordinary set of circumstances where this principal of the school was effectively found by the judge to be the mind and will of the school – that is, the decisions that were made by her were made by the school,” says Nick.
Dassi was awarded in excess of $1.2 million in compensatory damages that covered pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, economic loss and medical expenses. She was also awarded exemplary damages against Leifer.
Dassi has also launched the #BringLeiferBack campaign and has lobbied high profile politicians to demand Leifer’s return to Australia to face the charges made against her. Mazzeo Lawyers continues to support Dassi and her sisters during this drawn out process, in the hope that Leifer will be extradited to Australia to face the 74 sexual assault charges.
The outcome of the psychiatric panel will now determine the next steps in the fight to bring Leifer back to Melbourne to face her accusers.