(Update – Ms. Myzner pled guilty in 2016 to conspiring to kill the wife of her lover, Dr. Ira Bernstein, who was also implicated and later pled guilty as well. Both individuals are in state prison, serving sentences of four to 12 and five to 15 years, respectively)
By Michael Riconda
A Monsey woman who left her Satmar Hasidic Jewish community was dealt a blow Wednesday of last week, when the New York Appellate Division ruled in favor of her husband in a legal battle over custody of their three children.
The court ruled in favor of father Guillermo “Moshe” Gribeluk over mother Kelly Myzner, in spite of Myzner’s accusations that Gribeluk had sexually abused the children and the children’s stated desire to be with their mother.
According to the Appellate ruling, religion was not the deciding factor in the decision. Myzner had contested to the court that Judge Sherri Eisenpress of Rockland Family Court had based her initial custody decision on a preference to maintain the children’s religious identity, for stability sake.
“Here, contrary to the mother’s contentions, the Family Court did not rely solely on religion and the mother’s decision to leave the Hasidic Jewish community in making the determination to award the father custody of the parties’ children,” The decision read.
The ruling in the Appellate Divison effectively affirmed a 2012 decision made by Judge Eisenpress, who concluded that though both the mother and her children wanted to stay together, taking the children from the community in which they were raised would be detrimental to their well-being. “The Family Court expressly stated that it passed no judgment on either parent’s religious beliefs and practices,” The Appellate Divison ruling said. “The children’s need for stability and the potential impact of uprooting them from the only lifestyle which they have known are important factors in making a custody determination.”
Myzner divorced her husband in 2011 after arguing Gribeluk had subjected the family to fits of rage, beat the children, and left then with marks and welts as a result of inappropriate touching. Though Eisenpress was presented with photo evidence of injuries inflicted upon the children and conceded that Gribeluk did appear prone to intense anger, she dismissed testimony from Myzner’s eyewitnesses and the children themselves and concluded the children had been coached to lie about the abuse.
Instead, Eisenpress concluded the decision by Myzner-who wished to leave the community to continue a relationship with Gribeluk’s nephew-would confuse the children by leaving them torn between two radically different value systems. Eisenpress also insisted the decision was based not on religion but on who would provide the children with the most stable home environment.
“If the mother were to ignore the rules and requirements that the children are forced to follow to remain in their current community and school while with the children, it could lead to catastrophic consequences for children who are already clearly struggling with a multitude of issues,” Eisenpress said in her initial Family Court decision.
The Appellate Court placed faith in the determinations, affirming Eisenpress’ decision that Gribeluk’s home was a better environment for the children and referring to allegations of sexual abuse as “unfounded.”
According to Save Penina’s Children’s Charity President Pearl Reich, who worked with Myzner early on in her case and on other similar custody cases, the accusation of fabricating sexual allegations against Gribeluk were used as further cause to demonstrate that Myzner was unfit to take care of her children. “Right now what they’re doing is refocusing and saying, ‘No, this is not because of religion. It is because she pressed wrong allegations against her husband,’” Reich said. “They’re very, very strict with parents whose allegations are proven unfounded.”
Reich also opined that though a parent leaving a religious community will often be characterized as unfit, the characterization is meant as a political smokescreen. She pointed out that Eisenpress had been financed for office by the very religious sect who benefitted from her custody decision.
“[Rockland County is] right now being exposed and they are very scared, so they are trying every avenue possible to cover up the real reasoning, which is religion,” Reich continued.
Eisenpress is no stranger to allegations of favoring the Hasidic community in exchange for electoral support. In April 2013 it was revealed that her firm, formerly known as Reiss Enterprises, was owed about $500,000 by Moses “Mark” Stern, a convicted fraudster and key informant in a statewide corruption probe which netted former Spring Valley Mayor Noramie Jasmin, among others.
Eisenpress was aided politically by Stern as well. During Eisenpress’ 2011 campaign for the Family Court bench from which she handed down the Myzner ruling, Stern campaigned within the Orthodox community to raise $125,000 for the judge, with contributors often donating thousands of dollars at a time.