MELBOURNE – More than six years after police in the Australian state of Victoria launched extradition proceedings to bring her back from Israel, Malka Leifer faced justice in a Melbourne court Monday.
The former headmistress of Adass Israel School in the Melbourne suburb of Elsternwick faces 74 charges for the alleged sexual abuse of three former students between 2004 and 2008. The hearing at Melbourne County Court was to assess whether there was sufficient evidence for the case to move to trial.
Leifer has maintained her innocence during the long legal battle.
Wearing the same blue top and white head covering as in her previous appearances, Leifer attended the court by video from a room in prison, with a guard watching her from the door. As she sat, Magistrate Joanna Metcalf and lawyers discussed administrative matters relating to the hearing, which is being held online due to COVID restrictions.
The court was then closed to the media and public when the first witness was called. It will remain closed while the first three witnesses, Leifer’s former students – sisters Dassi Erlich, Elly Sapper and Nicole Meyer – give evidence.
In addition to the three former students, seven other witnesses will speak: Vicki Gordon, a psychologist working at Adass at the time of the alleged assaults; Chana Rabinowitz, a counselor at the school who will give evidence via video from Israel; Sharon Bromberg and Esther Spigelman, who were teachers at Adass; Joshua Erlich, the former husband of one of the witnesses; Mario Toledo; and Danielle Newton, a Victoria police detective.
Before closing the court, Magistrate Metcalf was told by counsel that no Jewish witnesses would be called this Thursday, Yom Kippur, the most holy day in the Jewish calendar. If the case continues into the middle of next week, the same will apply for September 21 and 22, the Jewish festival of Sukkot.
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Leifer’s lawyer, Ian Hill, said his client asked to be excused from attending the hearing on Yom Kippur. Hill told the court that Leifer was happy for her defense team to proceed in her absence.
Metcalf agreed to excuse Leifer from appearing Thursday and said if the hearing does proceed into next week, the other Jewish holidays can be addressed later. Crown Prosecutor Nanette Rogers said she thought the hearing would run at least until Monday, one week from now.
Hill said he was “mildly confident” that the case can be concluded by Monday.
Leifer left Melbourne for Israel in 2008, and the Victoria Police first submitted a request for her extradition in 2014. The claim stalled in 2016 when an Israeli court ruled that Leifer was mentally unfit to face trial.
But last year the Jerusalem District Court ruled she was mentally fit to be extradited.
In January this year, Leifer was flown out of Israel just before the international airport was shut down because of the pandemic, to Germany and then to Australia, where she has been in custody while police prepared their case against her.
The court was told that the three former students, who will give evidence remotely, would receive counselors from the Office of Public Prosecution to provide emotional support while the women gave evidence. The hearing will continue Tuesday.