Why did rabbi Barry Freundel plead guilty to so many counts of voyeurism? How should he prepare for sentencing?
As a criminal defense lawyer, I believe strongly in the presumption of innocence in the criminal justice system. As a human, I am sickened, to say the least, at the allegations, to which he pled guilty, that Washington, D.C., rabbi Bernard "Barry" Freundel videotaped dozens of nude women immersing themselves in the ritual mikvah bath when thinking they were only being observed by a female attendant.
Attending a Reform Jewish congregation as I grew up, the concept of the mikvah seemed peculiar to me. It seems to be a ritual most common with Orthodox synagogues, which apparently were the only type of synagogue until that changed in the nineteenth century with those rejecting orthodoxy of Orthodox Judaism. My last ancestor to have used a mikvah would have been my mother’s father’s mother, who lived until she was 96 and I was 21.
Barry Freundel was Kesher Israel synagogue’s rabbi since 1987, with congregants including former senator Joseph Lieberman and his wife Hadassah (from my natal state of Connecticut) and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew.
Freundel on February 19 entered a guilty plea to fifty-two counts of voyeurism, a misdemeanor that carries up to one year for each count. His plea agreement has not yet been made public, but the chief D.C. federal prosecutor has said his office will seek incarceration. The only good reason for pleading guilty to that many counts is to avoid risking a prosecution and conviction for even more counts, and to try to reduce sentencing exposure.
Unlike convicted former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell, who had character witnesses lined up into the hallway to testify at his sentencing for criminal receipt of gifts in cash and kind, one wonders whether many people will step up to plate to do the same for Freundel. Does he have anything sympathetic to present at sentencing beyond any otherwise spotless arrest record and a history of helping others when not busy taking pleasure from creating and watching his videotapes of women at the mikvah?
I have had clients charged and convicted for sick sex-related crimes worse than Freundel’s. A searingly aggravating factor for Freundel is that he was not only in a position of trust that he violated with his victims, many or most of whom were going to the mikvah out of a belief of religious duty, but presided over his congregation for over a quarter century, leaving every woman who went to his congregation’s mikvah during that timeframe not knowing if they were a victim to his voyeurism.
At the very least, it seems critical that before Freundel even steps foot in court for his sentencing date, that his lawyer present a sentencing memorandum that is as persuasive as possible to explain in detail why he engaged in this voyeurism and what he is going to do to cease committing crimes in the future. It sounds critical for Freundel not only to obtain a persuasively reliable forensic psychological evaluation, but also to obtain and dutifully follow a psychological treatment plan from the forensic psychologist.
If Freundel gets any active jail time, he is facing a hell-hole at the D.C. Jail, which is the way I view the facility from when I have visited. This place ranks near the bottom of the over twenty jails and prisons I have visited for over twenty years. Particularly for the judges who did not practice criminal defense and visit the D.C. Jail in that capacity before taking the bench, it might be advisable for criminal defense lawyers sometimes to remind them how much of a deterrent can be such a hell-hole jail than one of the nicer facilities. Next door is a much nicer facility run by a private prison corporation, even though privatizing jails and prisons raises its own can of worms about running them for profit and the attendant civil liberties issues for doing so. If Freundel receives active incarceration, he probably will prefer the private facility to the D.C. Jail, and a halfway house as soon as one becomes available.
Certainly, Freundel’s guilty plea saves his victims from the further emotional pain of testifying in court. His judge might give him credit for that for sentencing purposes.
From the distance of an observer, though, even four months after these allegations first were made public, I am responding that his actions were deeply sick, to say the least.