Adass Israel teacher Malka Leifer was employed by the Adass congregation, not its school, its barrister said today, in closing arguments in a lawsuit before the Supreme Court of Victoria.
The Israeli educator, who has been back in Israel since 2008, is fighting extradition to Australia to face criminal charges over her alleged sexual abuse of several Adass students.
The ultra-Orthodox Adass school in Melbourne is fighting the lawsuit against it by a former student who claimed the sexual abuse she suffered had marred her life.
The court has heard evidence of Leifer’s alleged sex abuse, and how she was rushed back to Israel after the allegations were presented to an emergency meeting of the Adass board in March 2008.
Counsel for Adass, Christopher Blanden SC, argued to the court today that the Adass school provided a general education and Leifer had been hired in 2000 by the congregation to provide a separate Jewish education, so the school was not liable for her alleged offences.
But Justice Jack Rush asked why Adass’s application to Australian immigration authorities at that time described Leifer as being sought for a job of “head mistress” and Immigration was never notified of any change to that job description.
The judge asked Blanden if the defence had considered a list of points in Leifer’s duty statement that pointed to her broad ranging duties at the school.
“She ran the school, she decided what went on, she hired teachers,” Justice Rush said.
More broadly he asked counsel to consider that the Adass school had a “duty of care” to the plaintiff and other students in the girls school section, regardless of who employed Leifer, a duty it could not defer to another party.
“Why does it matter whether the school or the congregation employed her if the school admits it owes the plaintiff a non-delegable duty of care?” Justice Rush asked counsel.
Blanden said the plaintiff’s counsel had framed Adass’s conduct as “a giant conspiracy” but that the defence had shown the school “responded in a responsible and appropriate way” when the accusations against Leifer arose.
He said legal precedent suggested it was not open to the court to find Adass negligent for failings seen in “hindsight” and the school had no way of knowing that Leifer was likely to commit sexual offences.
The plaintiff’s barrister Dyson Hore-Lacy SC contended that Leifer had been hired “without any character references, on the say-so of one person”.
Leifer “ran the school, she organised the camp, she organised the teachers, she was the school”.
“There was nothing that happened at the school that didn’t have her approval.”
He said there was no evidence that any registered teachers were in charge and there was no internal reporting process in place.
Leifer was aware the plaintiff could not complain to her family because of her troubled life at home.
In grooming her, Leifer had presented herself to her alleged victim as a “good fairy god mother” in contrast to the victim’s home environment.
There were “unlimited opportunities” for Leifer to offend, “camps, bedrooms, private homes and rooms with no window access”.
The claimant sat pensively in court as her barrister said she had been subjected to “three-and-a-half years of degrading sexual assaults” and had suffered “psychiatric damage”.
He stated: “For the rest of her life she will be susceptible … It can’t be assumed she will get better”.
Justice Rush adjourned the case and said he would now deliberate on a decision.