Left, Nassau County Judge Teresa Corrigan. Right, Jesse Friedman speaks at a June press conference, with his attorney Ron Kuby looking on. (NYLJ/Rick Kopstein)
A man who claims he was wrongly convicted of sexual abuse in the late 1980s has requested the judge in a pending case recuse herself because of connections to Nassau County’s top prosecutor.
Friedman pleaded guilty more than 25 years ago, but now has three actions pending, including a CPL 440.10 motion before Corrigan in which he asserts his innocence.
Kuby said in the motion that Corrigan and Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice, who has resisted efforts to turn over the case file and submitted a report supporting the conviction, have been friends and colleagues for decades.
Kuby said the two officials worked together as assistant district attorneys in Brooklyn in the 1990s. He also noted that Rice hired Corrigan as a bureau chief following her election as district attorney in 2005 and said the judge had worked in the district attorney’s office when Rice was opposing Friedman’s efforts to re-open the case.
“The basis of this motion, and the fundamental issue that suggests to any even casual observer that the judge’s impartiality might reasonably be questioned, is that she is an ‘insider’ rather than an ‘outsider,’” Kuby said in the motion. “For six of the eight years, Judge Corrigan sat not on the bench, but as a top assistant district attorney to DA Rice. During those years, the DA’s office successfully defended against multiple attempts to hold a hearing on the case, to reveal the evidence against Friedman, or to reach the merits of the prosecution at all.”
Friedman was 18 in 1988 when he and his father, Arnold Friedman, pleaded guilty to molesting children in their Great Neck home, where the father, a teacher, held a popular computing class. Denis Dillon was the county’s district attorney at that time.
The celebrated case was featured in the 2003 Oscar-nominated documentary “Capturing the Friedmans.”
Arnold Friedman died in prison in 1995 of an apparent suicide and Jesse Friedman was released in 2001 after serving 13 years.
Jesse Friedman, who has a lifetime designation as a high risk sex offender, has spent years fighting to clear his name, claiming the confession was coerced and false.
In 2010, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reluctantly upheld the conviction on technical grounds, but was highly critical of the conduct of prosecutors and police. The court found a “reasonable likelihood” that Friedman was innocent (see Friedman v. Rehal, 618 F.3d 142, 2010) and urged Rice to reinvestigate the case brought by one of her predecessors, Denis Dillon, long before she became DA.
Rice responded by convening a panel to review portions of the evidence. After a three-year review that yielded a 155-page report, the panel concluded that the conviction was sound (NYLJ, June 25, 2013).
In a statement submitted with the report, the panel said: “The District Attorney called on some of her most senior and trusted prosecutors to lead the review, and we saw first-hand that they approached their work with no preconceived notions about Jesse Friedman’s guilt, and no agenda to preserve his conviction. Indeed, if the evidence had convinced them there was a reasonable probability Jesse Friedman was not guilty, or there was new evidence that met even the most lenient legal standard available for relief, we have no doubt the Review Team was prepared to recommend without reservation that Friedman’s conviction be overturned. “
It ultimately concluded that “Jesse Friedman pleaded guilty because in fact he was guilty.”
Kuby, in his recusal motion, acknowledged that Rice had “appointed an austere panel to oversee the review,” but contended the panel “only saw selected, and redacted, witness statements, all of which supported her preconceived notion of the case.”
A spokesman for Rice said Tuesday that the district attorney “and her prosecutors and investigators are completely independent from the original Friedman prosecution and have spent hundreds of hours performing an exhaustive review of this decades-old case and guilty plea, a review that an independent advisory panel has declared to be as thorough and fair as possible.”
Friedman’s pending motions are a 440 motion now before Corrigan; a matter before the Appellate Division, Second Department, in which he is seeking full access to the investigative file; and a defamation action against Rice for allegedly defamatory statements she made regarding the review.