Israeli women attorneys visit Bergen counterparts
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Israeli women attorneys visit Bergen counterparts

Group of 25 gains new perspectives from the prosecutor’s office

The American and Israeli lawyers stand in the Hackensack office of the Bergen County Prosecutor.
The American and Israeli lawyers stand in the Hackensack office of the Bergen County Prosecutor.

It’s not often, when reviewing a meeting, that you conclude with the words joy, respect, and appreciation.

And yet, “it was amazing,” Bergen County Assistant Prosecutor Vered Adoni said, describing the recent gathering in her office with 25 female Israeli attorneys. Ms. Adoni — who grew up in Haifa and moved to the United States when she was 15 — helped set up the meeting.

The visit, arranged by the Israeli bar association, had a specific goal. While past exchanges focused on sharing information about the criminal justice system in general, this time the focus was on women in influential positions and the empowerment of women.

The visiting attorneys represented a mix of specialties, from criminal to family law. Some of them own their own law firms and employ only women, Ms. Adoni said.

In meetings last Wednesday with Bergen County lawyers, judges, prosecutors, and law enforcement officers, the Israeli attorneys sought information on issues relating to women as victims of domestic and criminal violence and learned about the services and resources available to those women. They also were interested in hearing about “women who broke the glass ceiling, women who made it far in the legal profession,” Ms. Adoni said.

Gathering in Hackensack, the visitors were able to meet women in key positions, including prosecutors, women in law enforcement — sergeants and above — and women who deal with victims. Among others, they had an opportunity to meet with Judge Frances McGrogan of Bergen County’s Superior Court Family Division.

The delegation was eager to meet Rachel “Ruchie” Freier, a New York City Criminal Court judge. In 2016, Ms. Freier was elected as a civil court judge for Kings County’s 5th Judicial District, thereby becoming the first chasidic woman to be elected as a civil court judge in New York State, and the first chasidic woman to hold public office in United States history. Unfortunately, Ms. Adoni said, the judge was unavailable to meet the delegation.

While Israel and the United States have much in common when it comes to criminal justice, there are significant differences as well. For example, the two countries have prosecutors dedicated to special victims, domestic violence, and bias crimes. But while the Bergen County prosecutor’s office has a victim witness unit, “which handles, talks, walks, and guides victims through the criminal justice system,” the Israeli justice system does not.

“The Israeli lawyers were fascinated most by the victim witness unit,” Ms. Adoni said. In Israel, when a man commits domestic abuse, he can get a public defender, but the woman doesn’t have any service to guide her through the system. Here, though, victims are very much represented. For example, they are helped through the interview process.

“At the end of the day, the units here are very similar to those in Israel,” she said. “Human beings commit the same crimes in Israel and the United States. But what stood out to them was the victim witness unit solely dedicated to helping and guiding women through the criminal justice system.”

The Israeli attorneys “also were impressed by the number of ranking women in our office, and by the many women in chief positions,” she continued. They also noted “the favorable working environment. They noticed the camaraderie, respect, and appreciation — an appreciation for our position and our work.”

Ms. Adoni also attended a networking session where the visitors met with their counterparts here who are from Israel. “They came from Israel as attorneys or else came to study here,” she said. “They talked about their career path.”

Ms. Adoni said that Bergen County Prosecutor Mark Musella “was excited to meet with the Israeli attorneys and has encouraged us to meet again in the future.” That certainly will happen through social media, she said, and the visiting group has been posting updates about its trip.

This week’s visit was not the first such legal exchange between Bergen County and Israel.

In 2010, four Bergen County assistant prosecutors spent 10 days in Israel, learning about its criminal justice system. At the time, then Bergen County Prosecutor John Molinelli said he was interested in having his staff “learn how the administration of justice is accomplished in foreign countries, particularly in those jurisdictions where social settings would dictate a heightened awareness of the rights of both the victims and the accused.”

He asked Ms. Adoni to organize the trip. The itinerary she drew up was extensive, touching on academic, judicial, and legislative perspectives on Israel’s criminal justice system “from the moment a crime is committed to when an appeal takes place,” as Ms. Adoni put it, when interviewed by the Jewish Standard at the time.

The three men on the trip, non-Jews, “called it an eye-opener, the trip of a lifetime,” Ms. Adoni said. She noted that the group toured “each and every place” related to the Israeli justice system, including law schools.

Israeli prosecutors also have visited the U.S. In 2011, three prosecutors from Nahariya met with then Congressman Steve Rothman of Englewood to discuss the role of lawyers, judges, and lawmakers in American society. The Israeli lawyers were participating in an exchange program run by the UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey (as the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey was called then), in cooperation with the Bergen County prosecutor’s office.

Ms. Adoni, who has been a prosecutor for some 22 years, has two children, one in college and one in high school. She has been an assistant prosecutor in the BCPO since 2008, working in various capacities. For five years she was in the domestic violence section, dealing predominantly with women victims. Now she heads up the bias crime unit, and often talks to community groups about the office’s work.

Noting that there has been a “tremendous increase” in bias cases, she explained that these cases usually are “tied to something political. During the covid crisis, Asians were targeted; during the George Floyd [situation], it was Blacks. And Jews are always targeted.”

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