Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Victims' Advocate Defends Dangerous Perpetrator

Dr David Pelcovitz at a Child Protection Event
[For the purposes of full disclosure, I am a fan of Dr David Pelcovitz. Dr Pelcovitz was instrumental in encouraging me to establish the "Magen" child protection organization in Beit Shemesh, and has been highly supportive of the organization, presenting at Magen awareness evenings, impacting the lives of hundreds of adults - and countless children].

A few years ago, I was asked to write a letter of reference to the court for a man convicted of shooting and seriously injuring three young men in a park. The man had shot at these kids, at close range, while under the influence of alcohol, and the three young men could easily have been killed.

I agreed to write that letter, which basically consisted of my introducing myself to the judge, acknowledging the serious nature of the crimes the man had been convicted of - and bringing to the judge's notice (truly) admirable characteristics I knew first hand about the man.

Out of the many letters submitted on the man's behalf, my letter was the one apparently selected to be read to the court. I don't know if the judge was influenced to be lenient in sentencing, in light of my letter, but that was the purpose.

Convicted criminals are entitled to obtain and submit such letters of reference, addressed to the judge, requesting clemency in sentencing.

For example, I am sure that Ehud Olmert and his convicted colleagues, will obtain hundreds of VIP letters, presenting the many (genuine!) achievements of the illustrious convicts.

This process is entirely legitimate.

Furthermore, in itself, writing such a letter of character reference does not imply any support or defence whatsoever of the crimes the convicted man has done.

It has recently come to light (big hat-tip to "Frum Follies") that Dr David Pelcovitz, a leading child protection advocate, writer and educator, wrote and submitted such a letter of reference (full text here), pleading clemency in sentencing for one Evan Zauder.

Evan Zauder was a charismatic and successful youth worker & educator, Zauder worked as a sixth-grade teacher at the Yeshivat Noam school in Paramus, N.J. and various Jewish community programs.
Unfortunately, Evan Zauder was also sexually attracted to children.

Zauder was arrested in May 2012, when the police found large quantities of child pornography on his home PC.

A few days later, Zauder was released under a $2 million bail deal, which included requirements that he live with his aunt and uncle, and that he use a PC monitored by the pre-trial supervision services. It even had a screen which told/reminded Zauder that the computer was being monitored.

During his bail period, Zauder used that computer to download even more child porn. Which was, of course, discovered.

His bail was annulled, and a search warrant issued.

During the search, police found more computers, even worse child pornography ("pre-pubescent, sadism and masochism") and records of sexual chats Zauder had held with minors, prior to his initial arrest. Furthermore, Zauder had distributed these videos and images to others, which is a more severe crime than solely possession.

Following an investigation, one of the boys who Zauder solicited online, disclosed to police that he had met up with Zauder and had sexual contact with him. The boy was 14.

Faced with this plethora of incriminating evidence, on 22nd January, 2013, Zauder pleaded guilty to three charges of: sexual contact with a minor; distributing child pornography; possessing child pornography.

Once the guilty verdict was accepted by the judge, and Zauder was convicted, many letters were written and submitted to the court by family, rabbis, and others who vouched for Zauder's good side.

Had Dr Pelcovitz asked my advice, I would have recommended NOT writing any such a letter for Zauder.

I wouldn't have a problem with him writing such a letter for, say, a car thief, tax evader or, heh, for Ehud Olmert.

However, writing such a letter for a convicted and dangerous pedophile undermines Dr Pelcovitz' well earned international reputation as a pioneer in educating the Jewish community about child protection and advocating for victims.

If Dr Pelcovitz had insisted on writing such a letter anyway, which is his right, he ought to have been very clear in what capacity he wrote it, and to only write in that capacity.

Indeed, in the letter Dr Pelcovitz wrote that he offers it "in my capacity as a former teacher of Evan Zauder's in a Pastoral Psychology course he took with me."

In such a capacity, Dr Pelcovitz could have written (for example) that Zauder was a hard working student, who did well in exams and that he was good to his mother. Whatever. Fine.

However, Dr Pelcovitz also introduced himself as "a clinical psychologist in practice for the past thirty years... I spent most of my career treating victims of child sexual abuse...I have had the opportunity to treat many individuals with issues in the area of controlling sexuality".

Dr Pelcovitz, having stated his professional credentials, reported that when he met with Zauder after his arrest "he wasn't the least bit defensive about his actions. He expressed sincere regret and remorse."

Remember, Zauder was arrested for possessing child porn. So presumably that was what he was expressing remorse for.

What about the even more serious offenses which were unknown to the police, which Zauder had committed by that time, and which he was covering up?

Dr Pelcovitz made a misjudgement claiming that Zauder showed remorse. Perhaps remorse for being caught, and relief at not having been caught, at that stage, for the worse offenses. But there was nothing sincere about Zauder's show of regret for his crimes.

Dr Pelcovitz then continues in his letter to Judge Kaplan:

"As you know, the prognosis for sustained change is often guarded [DM: This is code, I believe for the high rates of pedophile recidivism]. In the case of Evan, however, I believe that he possesses many of the ingredients that I have come to associate with sustained change and potential to be a valuable member of society. A combination of an unusually supportive family coupled with Evan's advanced capacity for self-awareness and empathy should serve to improve prognosis for becoming a valued member of his family and community".

Here again, Dr Pelcovitz is taking on the persona of the mental health professional, giving a quasi-prognosis for a man who was not Dr Pelcovitz's therapy client - but a student in his class.

And again, Dr Pelcovitz gets his stab at a prognosis seriously wrong.

In the Sentencing Memorandum, by Preet Bharara, United States Attorney, Southern District of New York:

"Dr Shoshanna Must, the Probation Office’s evaluator, scored Zauder’s risk of reoffense as
Moderate-High based on the conjunction of the Static-99R and the Stable-2007 instrument, a
result statistically correlated with a 5-year recidivism rate for sexual reoffenses of 16.8%.

"Beyond this quantitative metric, Dr. Must also qualitatively found that Zauder has “a strong sexual interest in underage males, pro-offending attitudes, and a sense of intellectual superiority that allowed him to believe he could break societal rules without being detected.”

"Moreover, any account of Zauder’s risk of recidivism must take account of his violation of his terms of pretrial release by using a computer he knew was monitored by Pretrial Services to access inappropriate sexual images of children. This extraordinarily flagrant and reckless conduct—after he had just been arrested and placed on home detention with relatives, and had started his course of therapy—gives great reason to question his confidence that he poses no future risk.

"Indeed, given the risk of recidivism, the Government harbors serious concerns that a sentence at or near the mandatory minimum will not adequately protect the public from further crimes by the defendant."

In conclusion, while I am an ardent admirer of the career of achievements of Dr Pelcovitz, I believe Dr David Pelcovitz made various disappointing errors in judgement.

1. Writing a letter for Evan Zauder in the first place.
2. Mixing up Dr Pelcovitz's two capacities - Zauder's past teacher (legitimate, I guess) and a renowned clinical psychologist (blunder).

Given the negative publicity, and even outrage, which has now been generated by Dr Pelcovitz's letter for Evan Zauder, and the knock to his professional prestige, I suggest it would be appropriate for Dr Pelcovitz to issue a retraction of the letter and apologise.

And for the sake of our children, I hope Judge Lewis A.Kaplan had the good sense to ignore Dr Pelcovitz' ill-considered letter and plea for leniency, when he sentenced Zauder this week to 13 years imprisonment.

13 comments:

  1. David,

    Thank you for yet another good post as part of your continuing efforts to fight child abuse. As the blogger that hosted this revelation by David Cheifetz on Frum Follies, I want to thank you for taking the effort to carefully examine the pertinent materials. I know how much work that entailed.

    I agree there is a place for writing letters on behalf of many defendants. You have done a nuanced job of parsing out the issues of when to write such a letter and how to write it.

    As you argue, Dr. Pelcovitz crossed a line in writing this particular letter for this particular case.

    Regarding the sentence, you write: "I hope Judge Lewis A.Kaplan had the good sense to ignore Dr Pelcovitz' ill-considered letter and plea for leniency, when he sentenced Zauder this week to 13 years imprisonment." I fear not. Even the defense agreed that the minimum sentence was 10 years and the possible maximum was somewhere around 20+ years. Zauder managed to end up in the lower end of that range. So, your hopes may have been unmet, and Pelcovitz's letter may have been a factor in increasing the risk of other children being harmed by his relatively earlier release.

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  2. Any rabbi or mental health professional who wrote in support of the evil doer Zauder should be removed from his position and/ or boycotted.
    I have held Dr Pelcowitz to date, in high regard now I am sickened by his actions, the rabbis who also wrote in support of the perpetrator are little better.
    I am not sure if Teshuvah can help, they should all beg HaShem for mercy

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  3. Thank you for posting the correct timeline and details of the trial. Many people do not have the timeline of events down. There is just one terrible error of omission that you also incorrectly and inaccurately stated that really could have been cleared up had you reached out to Dr. Pelcovitz himself or any of the other rabbis who submitted those letters before writing this. If you read those letters you'll notice that many of them are not dated. There's a reason for that, because not all of them were collected at the same time. However, they were all admitted at the same time - after the second set of charges, right before sentencing. Dr. Pelcovitz and many others wrote their letters before the second set of charges were handed down - charges that were not issued until January 22, 2013, close to eight months after his arrest. Dr. Pelcovitz wrote his letter (as did many others) when the only known charges were regarding possession of child pornography, and, as a therapist, was hoping that indeed he would receive the lowest sentence so that he could receive treatment and hopefully rehabilitation for that issue. Had he know that his letter was going to be used after the second set of charges were brought - when others found out about the contact with a minor - he would have never written such a letter.
    Before hundreds if not thousands of people read your post and draw incorrect conclusions - that Dr. Pelcovitz and other rabbis wrote letters of clemency knowing that Zauder had sexual contact with a minor - I implore you to consider either suspending your publication of this article and reaching out to Dr. Pelcovitz yourself as I did (he's very easy to get ahold of) and getting the actual details of what happened and perhaps amending your article accordingly, if that is, you would feel it would then need amending. One can't always get all the facts by just reading or perusing the docket files. Obviously it should have been withdrawn and that was a mistake but it was written for one set of charges, not the other. I hope this casts a different light on things. In all likelihood a statement will be coming out explaining all this. But really, it's just a phone call or e-mail away to get to the bottom of it. Best,
    ADW

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    1. Rav Weiss - actually I have reached out to Dr Pelcovitz, before writing the article, and I am therefore aware of his recollected version of events.

      I did not find that version compelling enough to withstand public scrutiny.

      In the example you give here, the claim that that Dr Pelcovitz and the other letters pre-dated the guilty verdict, and that the writers were therefore unaware of the crimes Zauder had pleaded guilty to, does not add up with the timeline.

      Firstly, the great majority of the letters are dated - all between February thru April 2013.

      Dr Pelcovitz's letter, which is one of a few letters where the date of writing is unclear, states it is requesting "justice tempered by mercy when Even IS SENTENCED" [my capitals].

      Indeed, that is the very function of these letters - they are submitted after the verdict, and prior to sentencing.

      This letter therefore cannot have been written before Evan was found/pleaded guilty on 22nd January 2013.

      The nature of these crimes was not a secret.

      They were extensively publicised at the time in the conventional and social media.

      For example:

      The guilty plea was formally published on 22nd January:
      http://www.justice.gov/usao/nys/pressreleases/January13/ZauderEvanPleaPR.php

      Articles about the case, all stating the nature of the crimes, include:

      http://forward.com/articles/169788/jewish-camp-counsellor-and-yeshiva-teacher-evan-za/

      http://www.haaretz.com/jewish-world/jewish-world-news/former-u-s-jewish-schoolteacher-pleads-guilty-to-child-pornography-1.495980

      and many other well-read respected publications.

      Unfortunately, an argument claiming that the many illustrious, educated and worldly writers of these letters for Zauder were actually ignorant of the nature of the Zauder's crimes, is frankly untenable.

      I believe what is required here is an apology, not excuses.

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    2. I concur with David Morris's surmise that Dr. Pelcovitz wrote his letter after the plea bargain. Competent lawyers don't solicit letters designed to affect sentencing until the issues bearing on sentencing are clear. Ben Brafman is certainly a very competent criminal defense attorney. If however, Dr. Pelcovitz did, rather unusually, write his letter before the plea bargain he can convince the rest of us by releasing an un-redacted copy of his letter.

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    3. Rav Akiva Weiss4 April 2014 07:40

      David and Yerachmiel,
      I think that you may be right. I spoke with someone else who was solicited for a letter and she recalled it being immediately after the first arrest but then went back and checked and was actually solicited in February of 2O13. What seemed to have happened then was that David Pelcovitz [and possibly others] did not do due diligence and either assumed or did not realize that new charges had been brought. This is a terrible terrible [horrific even] oversight, and though we're all only human, would certainly demand some sort of statement or apology - one which probably can't even be given if the letters resulted in a lesser sentence. This is such truly terrible news.
      Nevertheless, I still doubt however any presumption that the man who literally wrote the book on "breaking the silence" about sexual abuse in the Jewish community was knowingly going to bat for someone who he knew had victimized children. I think this was unfortunately more human error and carelessness [and don't necessarily think completely untenable] but you are right that it's really irrelevant because whatever the reasons it demands an apology and it's important to say so and to stress that so thank you for doing so.

      Delete
  4. Hi. Sorry to post again, but just one other thing to point out: you seem to have only quoted the Prosecution's sentencing memorandum by Preet Bahara concerning Zauder's recidivism rate and how even out on bail he downloaded more child pornography, citing this as how Dr. Pelcovitz made a terrible error. I don't know if you also read the Defense's memorandum, but if you did you'll see that they slam that assessment pretty hard saying that it's really not fair to assess rehabilitative ability or recidivism from that example since at the time when that happened he was either not really undergoing any kind of counseling or therapy or he had only just started (I can't remember) - contrary to what the prosecution claims, whereas after he was in therapy for some time the second court appointed therapist agreed that she felt the recidivism rate would be low given to how he was responding to treatment and counseling and his family environment and background and upbringing. The Defense's memorandum, while obviously pleading what they can on Zauder's behalf (there was no way he was going to get less than the mandatory minimum sentencing of 10 years), also helps one understand some other facets of the case. I'm not trying to defend Zauder here. Just Dr. Pelcovitz...as far as whether or not this guy could be rehabilitated, that is. Dr. Pelcovitz's initial assessment was yes (before he or anyone else knew of the second charges/incidents). The second court assigned therapist - even after the second set of charges - also said yes. Just FYI.

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    Replies
    1. Rav Weiss - Dr Pelcovitz was not being called upon to give a formal risk assessment of Zauder.

      This process was in the hands of the court and its ancillary mental health systems. This team of experts, properly equipped, informed and qualified, included Dr Krueger, Dr Must and Dr Kaplan.

      Dr Pelcovitz should not have even gone there in his letter.

      Zauder was not Dr Pelcovitz' client, but his student.

      IMHO, for Dr Pelcovitz to state any clinical evaluation ("prognosis") of Zauder in his letter to the court, was by definition inappropriate and potentially irresponsible.

      Delete
    2. Rav Akiva Weiss4 April 2014 07:47

      David,
      Again, after weighing what you said, I think you may be right. I also got some of the info wrong in what I posted above - they were not in agreement as to their assessments and even if they were as you mention here, that's really not relevant since he was not the therapist on this case. I appreciate your perspective on the matter so thanks again.

      Delete
  5. Why is it that so many "chashuv" people, including Dr. Pelcovitz, are willing to go out on a limb for someone in possession of child pornography? As a victim of child sexual abuse who was silenced by many rabbonim, I asked Dr. P. if he would speak up on my behalf. His response was, "No. It won't make a difference." It would have made a big difference in my healing to have some support. I'm disgusted by his support of this pervert.

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    Replies
    1. Well, there was also a "chashuv" person by the name of David Morris who was willing to go out on a limb for an attempted murderer, so I guess there are all types.

      Delete
  6. Check out Dr. David Pelcovitz's response given in interviews to student reporters from the YU student newspaper, The Commentator : http://www.yucommentator.org/2014/04/yeshiva-university-rabbis-professor-asked-for-leniency-for-child-abuser/?wpmp_tp=1

    --"[Pelcovitz] claimed that, at the time of his writing the letter, the only charge he was aware of against Zauder was child pornography use. “I would never have done this if there was a direct victim involved...... He urged “nuance” in this case involving his former student, arguing that “child pornography use rarely translates into physical abuse of minors."

    Wow, not only did he fail to exercise due diligence by reading the final indictment or even the USDofJ press release, he also imagines that child pornography is a victimless crime. Doesn't he realize that child pornography entails the brutal abuse of children? Is he not aware that the victims have to live with the eternal sensation of others seeing them sexually humiliated over and over, even if the initial abusers and photographers are jailed?

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  7. David, Check out Dr. Pelcovitz "apology."

    He does not address the many criticisms or indicate whether he should have written the letter he did.



    To Whom It May Concern:

    I sincerely apologize to the abuse survivors who were upset by the submission of my letter to the judge in the Evan Zauder case.

    Having spent my career researching the impact of abuse, working on developing educational, therapeutic and community prevention programs and treating survivors of abuse, I am deeply saddened that a letter I wrote added to their pain.

    In no way does the letter I wrote reflect a belief on my part that possession of child pornography is a trivial or victimless crime and, once again, I profoundly regret the pain that my letter has caused abuse survivors.

    David Pelcovitz

    posted in http://www.rabbihorowitz.com/PYes/ArticleDetails.cfm?Book_ID=1804&ThisGroup_ID=238&Type=Article&SID=2

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