N. Scott Banks was law secretary to Nassau County Court Judge Abbey L. Boklan in 1987 when she presided over the sensational sex abuse case against Arnold Friedman and his son Jesse, who both pleaded guilty to sodomizing pre-adolescent boys who took after-school computer classes at the Friedman’s Great Neck home.
Sixteen year’s later, Andrew Jarecki released an award winning documentary, “Capturing the Friedmans,” which raised questions about the tactics used by the police and prosecutors to secure guilty pleas from the father and son. Judge Boklan, however, was interviewed in the film and stated there was “never a doubt in my mind about their guilt.”
In a letter written to a Supreme Court Justice F. Dana Winslow a few days ago, Banks recounted how at the time Judge Boklan handled the case in 1987 the court had no knowledge of questionable tactics used by the prosecution and investigators. But, in that letter Banks also described his doubts mushrooming in the wake of the film and a searing opinion issued by a federal appeals court in Manhattan which, relying heavily on the information in the film, found “a reasonable likelihood” that Jesse Friedman had been wrongly convicted.
In his letter to Winslow, who sits in Nassau County, Banks said that back in 1987 he had “presumed” that prosecutors had provided the defense with materials needed to assess the strength of the prosecution’s case against his Friedmans.
Only subsequently, he wrote, did he learn that was “not the case.” Among the new information to emerge, he wrote, is that “the prosecution did not disclose witness statements, statements of children who denied being abused by Jesse Friedman, that children were subjected to ‘counseling’ arranged by law enforcement … and some children may actually have been pressured by police investigators to give statements against Mr. Friedman.” To read full Banks letter, click on “Banks Letter” in bar at the top of the page.
That information about “questionable” tactics, Banks wrote, “cause[s] me to question the fairness and viability of the Friedman prosecution and Jesse Friedman’s culpability” for sexual abuse.
Other than prosecutors, Banks and Boklan may well be the only two persons to have reviewed the grand jury minutes in the Friedman case. While the prosecution’s submission was legally sufficient, Banks said, he was troubled at the time that information relating to abuse provided by the children was “largely elicited by the prosecutor, demanding ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers and contained “absolutely no details concerning facts alleged against [Jesse] Friedman.”
Banks submitted his letter to support Jesse Friedman’s Freedom of Information Act proceeding for access to the grand jury minutes, the children’s witness statements and other related materials. Judge Winslow will hear oral argument on Friedman’s application to order the District Attorney’s Office to provide the material on Thursday morning.
In June, the Nassau County District Attorney’s office concluded that a three-year review by the office “had only increased confidence in the integrity of Jesse Friedman’s guilty plea.”
The office undertook the review after Judge Edward R. Korman, writing in 2010 for Second Circuit Court of Appeals Friedman v. Rehal, 618 F 3d 142, concluded that the court lacked the power to overturn Friedman’s conviction for technical reasons but suggested that the Nassau County office had an ethical obligation to review the plea.
In its 155-page report affirming the handling of the case in 1987, the office offered new evidence of Friedman’s guilt. The report disclosed that Jesse Friedman’s uncle, Howard, had told investigators that Arnold had told him that Jesse had “misbehaved” in the class. Arnold (Jesse’s father) and Howard are brothers.
Arnold Friedman committed suicide in prison in 1995. After being imprisoned for 13 years, Jesse Friedman was released in 2002. Judge Boklan died in 2012. Banks is now a litigator handling criminal and matrimonial cases at the Garden City firm of Kenneth J. Weinstein, P.C.
Friedman’s lawyer, Ronald Kuby, has vowed to mount another state court proceeding to set aside Friedman’s guilty plea, and is seeking to gather new evidence for the challenge in the proceeding before Justice Winslow, In the Matter of Jesse Friedman, 13-004015 (Nassau County).