Crown Heights

SKETCHES OF COURT: Justice Lewis hears dispute over Crown Heights synagogue

March 3, 2014 By Alba Acevedo Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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In this courtroom sketch, Hon. Yvonne Lewis listens as petitioner’s attorney Mitchell C. Shapiro (standing) of the law firm Shapiro Tamir Law Group, PLLC, conducts a direct examination of Bruce Yisroel Karp (seated, lower left) during a contempt hearing in the case of Congregation Ahavas Moische v. Joseph Katzoff. The case concerns a dispute over the management of the religious institution (aka Maple Street Synagogue), in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. Karp is chairman of the board at the synagogue.

Prior to appearing in the secular court system, petitioner and respondent initially agreed to binding arbitration by a rabbinical court, known as a “Bais Din,” which is authorized to arbitrate particular disputes. Its rulings may be enforced by secular courts in the same manner as those of a secular arbitration association.

Initially, a Bais Din in January 2012 found for the Petitioner, giving the congregation the right to make decisions on all congregational matters for a term ending in January 2015. Subsequent actions related to interpretation and enforcement have been challenged by all parties in and out of secular court. The current dispute includes additional petitioners and respondents.

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Petitioners have brought the contempt charge, alleging interference by the respondents in the management of the congregation and seeking sanctions and penalties. The respondents, represented by attorney Victor A. Worms (seated, third from left), sole practitioner, state in court papers that they have been victimized by punitive and retaliatory actions, including personal threats and excommunication. They claim violation of their religious freedom on the part of the petitioners.

The contentious contempt hearing took place Tuesday, Feb. 25, in Kings County Supreme Court Civil Term. Seated to the right of respondents’ attorney Mr. Worms and for the petitioners are Yeshaya Gorkin, paralegal (seated at table, center), and associate attorney Jacob H. Nemon (seated at table, right). The hearing is scheduled to continue this week.

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