This version is updated to contain material from an interview conducted after the intial post with Jesse Friedman’s defense lawyer in 1988, Peter Panaro. It also contains a correction. The date of the U.S. Court of Appeals opinion, authored by Judge Edward R. Korman was August 2010.
The Nassau County Court judge who presided over the controversial Friedman child-molestation case died of cancer on Nov. 3. Judge Abbey K. Boklan, who resigned from the bench in 2003, was 73.
At the family’s request, there has been no public notice of Boklan’s passing.
A month after her death, my inquiry with the Nassau County courts’ press office was apparently the first one.
Scott Banks, one of her former law secretaries, had no knowledge of her death when he attended the screening of filmmaker Andrew Jarecki’s latest evidence- gathering at a community meeting in Great Neck on Nov. 20. Click here for prior article
Banks was quoted in the “evidence reel” put together by Jarecki, the maker of the award winning 2003 film, “Capturing the Friedmans,” as saying he had found “troubling” aspects of the indictments handed down against Arnold and Jesse Friedman in 1988. As Boklan’s law secretary in 1988, it was Banks’ job to review the indictments for legal sufficiency. The quote came from a recorded interview with one of the principals of the film company, Hit the Road Running, Marc Smerling.
“Capturing the Friedmans” presented material indicating that many of the children were subjected to long, repeated and harsh interviews before making statements that implicated the Friedmans. The 75-minute film played at the community meeting, in addition to containing Banks’ comments, also quoted several of the Friedmans’ accusers as retracting their accusations. Click here for prior story
Arnold Friedman pled guilty in March 1988 to molesting14 youngsters who had attended an after-school computer class at his home in Great Neck and was sentenced to a term of 10-to-30 years in prison. The following December, Jesse Friedman, then 19, pled guilty to abusing 14 youngsters from ages 8 through 13 who had attended the class. He was sentenced to a term of 6-to18 years with Boklan recommending that he serve the maximum.
Arnold Friedman, while incarcerated, committed suicide in 1995. Jesse Friedman was imprisoned for 13 years before being released in 2001.
Banks, who before being hired had often appeared before Boklan as a Legal Aid attorney, said she should be “celebrated for her work” and that he was “saddened” that he did not have a chance to say goodbye.”
Boklan, who graduated from Columbia University School of Law as a Harlan Fiske Stone Scholar in 1962, stayed at home for 11 years to raise her two children and returned to the practice of law in 1975 at the Nassau County District Attorney’s Office. Three years later, then Nassau District Attorney Denis E. Dillon put her in charge of coordinating sex crimes cases.
Boklan, a Republican, was initially appointed to the Nassau County Court in 1982 by Democratic Governor Hugh L. Carey, and elected to a full 10-year term later that year.
During her tenure on the bench she handled several high-profile cases in addition to the Friedman case. Among them were cases in which a coed was convicted of killing her infant in her dorm room; a slaying during a shootout in a Valley Stream movie theatre during a showing of Godfather III; and the rape of an 18-year-old woman who was kidnapped at the Roosevelt Fields shopping mall.
Noting that he and Boklan had come from different sides of the criminal bar, Banks said that she had hired him as “a sounding board for her views.” Though she could be “very tough” in sentencing, Banks said, she treated defendants and counsel with respect.
Despite their different outlooks, Banks said, a bond remained intact. When Banks said he was elected as one of the first Democrats to win a seat on the Hempstead Town Council in decades, Boklan agreed to swear him in at a ceremony attended by U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer.
After leaving the bench, according to a family friend, Boklan and her husband, Peter Sutton, had successful second career teaching the tango to passengers on cruise ships.
Nevertheless, Boklan’s handling of the Friedman case was controversial. Jesse Friedman’s defense attorney in 1988, Peter Panaro, stated in an interview Wednesday evening that at a pre-trial conference Boklan had told him that, if he tried the case and Friedman was convicted, she would sentence his client consecutively to the maximum term for every count upon which the jury found him guilty. In the movie, he stated that under the law applicable at that time such an approach would mean the Friedman would remain in prison for 50 years until he was 70.
Also in the movie, Boklan stated before the camera that “there was never a doubt in my mind as to [Jesse Friedman’s] guilt.” Writing for the U.S. Court of Appeals in Manhattan, Judge Edward R. Korman ascribed significant weight to that statement in concluding that the record suggests a “ ‘reasonable likelihood’ that Jesse Friedman was wrongfully convicted.”
Interview Statements Questioned
Although Korman concluded that due to complexities in the federal habeas corpus statute his court did not have the power to order relief, his opinion called upon current Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen M. Rice to review Friedman’s conviction to determine if it should be set aside.
Rice agreed to conduct such a review shortly after the opinion was released August 2010. The review is still in progress.
Bruce A. Barket, a prominent Garden City-based defense lawyer, said Boklan was one the most intelligent, hardworking judges” in Nassau County. She ran “a very tight courtroom, he said, noting that he had seen her “smack prosecutors around when they got out of line.”
For someone who served with distinction during 20 years on the bench, Barket said, it is “neither fair nor appropriate” to examine her career through “the prism of a single case in which she took a guilty plea 25 years ago.”
Barry Levin, also a highly regarded defense lawyer based in Garden City, however, described Boklan as being “very pro-prosecution.” He recalled an incident in which investigator uncovered a prior police report that undercut a police officer’s testimony. When he attempted to raise the issue, Judge Boklan said, “if the prosecution denies there was a prior written statement there is no need to go further. Move on counselor.”