FORMER Adass Israel school principal Malka Leifer will be tried on 70 charges of child sexual abuse after a Melbourne magistrate ruled that evidence against her justified a trial.
In a nine-day committal hearing at the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court, four of the initial 74 charges relating to the ex-principal’s alleged conduct while principal at Adass Israel school between 2004 and 2008 were dropped because they were allegedly committed in Israel. The remaining 70 charges include 11 counts of rape.
As Leifer followed proceedings on video from the Dame Phyllis Frost Centre women’s prison, magistrate Johanna Metcalf asked her how she pleaded. Leifer entered a plea of not guilty, stating, “Not”, then continuing, “Not guilty”.
During the hearing, the complainants, sisters Elly Sapper, Dassi Erlich and Nicole Meyer, who had been granted permission to publicly identify themselves, gave evidence in closed court.
In open court last week, psychologist Dr Vicki Gordon, who had consulted for Adass, confirmed to Leifer’s barrister Ian Hill QC she became aware in early 2008 through social worker Chana Rabinowitz in Israel of revelations about Leifer made to her by Dassi Erlich. Gordon later approached the wife of a senior Adass rabbi to arrange a meeting to discuss the allegations.
Questioning Dassi’s former husband Joshua Erlich, Hill put to him that Dassi “would tell you how she and her sisters would love going to school because the attention they got from Mrs Leifer and how it enabled them … to get away from their mother”, to which he responded, “Correct.”
Erlich said Dassi had frequently spoken about Leifer being “in place of her mother and being a supportive figure”.
Hill asked, “Did you find their mother to be controlling?” to which Erlich said, “Yes.”
Erlich testified about a phone call he overheard Dassi making from their home in Israel to her sister Nechama (Nicole) about a counselling session with Rabinowitz in which Rabinowitz had been “very concerned” about information Dassi had revealed to her about her and Nechama’s relationship with Leifer.
“Dassi was very worried about how it had been taken and that Mrs Rabinowitz was going to contact other people in Melbourne to speak about it,” said Erlich.
Hill put to Erlich “did Dassi tell you that what she’d said to Mrs Rabinowitz was how Mrs Leifer had been very affectionate, how she would hug Dassi, rub her thighs”, which Erlich confirmed. “At the time, I didn’t find it particularly concerning,” he said, “so if she would have said ‘under the clothes’ or something of that nature, I would have been concerned about that.”
Erlich confirmed he had heard Dassi and Nechama discussing what Hill termed “a plan to harass” Leifer. “I heard them saying they wanted to call her up just to cause her problems and they were laughing about it,” Erlich said.
Witness Esther Spigelman, who knew Leifer, said the accusations against her had shocked the school and the Adass community. Acting Sergeant Danielle Newton testified about a police investigation into the Adass school board.
Leifer will appear before a directions hearing in the County Court of Victoria on October 21.