Despite Two Opponents, Brooklyn DA Charles Hynes Faces Greatest Campaign Challenge Yet: Himself

Spend a little time around Brooklyn District Attorney Charles “Joe” Hynes and you know he plans to beat retired Manhattan DA Morgenthau’s record as NYC’s longest tenure in a district attorney’s office. “I run in 2013, 2017, and 2021, at which point I will be a little bit older than 90, which breaks Morgenthau’s record,” Hynes told Our Time Press last August. From his days as Special Prosecutor in Howard Beach more than 25 years ago, Charles Hynes has successfully run for election as Brooklyn’s top prosecutor six times. His 2013 campaign make seven.

Though unopposed in 2009, other races were clouded by what some call “political prosecutions” of candidates and their allies: challengers Judge John Phillips and attorney Sandra Roper, John O’Hara, Assemblywoman Diane Gordon, and former Brooklyn Democratic County Leader Assemblyman Clarence Norman. Ironically, Taharka Robinson, Hynes’ 2013 Deputy Campaign Manager, was once a target of Hynes.

This time, a growing crescendo of voters is asking questions about the candidate himself and his record as a prosecutor.

Suspicions of favorable treatment were exposed by a New York Times series of reports on the prosecution of child sex assaults within Brooklyn’s very insular Orthodox Jewish communities. The district attorney was forced to confront accusations of having a different set of rules, including withholding from the public the names of those prosecuted, deferring to rabbinical authorities who were to determine victim credibility, and at times negotiating a guilty plea and probation.

In the face of those accusations, Hynes recently obtained the successful conviction of a prominent local rabbinical counselor for sexual abuse of a young female client.

On the flip side, other communities sometimes experience over-the-top prosecutions.

Early in 2011, four young men were charged with pimping and sexually abusing an Orthodox Jewish young woman for 9 years. A year later, defense counsel learned that early in the investigation, the young woman had recanted her claims. Hynes’ office was forced to drop the charges. Meanwhile, two of the men had been in jail for 10 months.

Last week, the Village Voice produced a scathing detailed report of instances of alleged prosecutorial misconduct emanating from within the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office.

In one highlighted case, Jabbar Collins spent 16 years in prison for the murder of a rabbi, a murder he did not commit. Collins is suing the city for wrongful conviction. U.S. District Judge Frederick Block stated from the bench that he is “disturbed by Hynes’ behavior” in support of the prosecutor on Collins’ case, Michael Vecchione.

Collins’ attorney Joel Rudin has reportedly uncovered 56 cases of Brooklyn prosecutorial misconduct since the mid-1980s.

DA Hynes is known both locally and nationally for his innovative crime prevention programs, from ComAlert and the Sex Offender’s Hotline, to domestic violence and anti-gang initiatives.

But, as the borough’s top prosecutor, Charles Hynes will likely face pointed questions from this year’s challengers, Manhattan prosecutor Abe George and prominent federal prosecutor and defense counsel Kenneth Thompson – both men of color.

As reports of his decision to run were reported, Abe George characterized the Brooklyn DA’s office as “way too political” regarding sex abuse scandals in Brooklyn’s Orthodox Jewish communities, and then praised how Manhattan DA Cy Vance runs that office. But, Manhattan doesn’t have the concentrations of Orthodox Jewish communities that Brooklyn has. Vance has not been faced with prosecuting crimes emanating from within extremely closed, insular communities.

George called the Brooklyn DA’s office “antiquated” and not very technologically advanced, as if he would know. George has worked primarily in the special narcotics unit for years, and will come under his own scrutiny from those of us who read the papers and see the special treatment Manhattan whites receive when caches of drugs are found in their apartments or when high profile socialites die from drug overdoses. The former ADA does believe that prosecutions for small amounts of marijuana waste valuable law enforcement resources.

Kenneth Thompson first became widely known to Brooklynites for his successful investigation and prosecution of NYPD officers involved in the beating and torture of Haitian husband and father Abner Louima. Thompson’s trial skills compelled police officer Justin Volpe to plead guilty in the middle of the trial. He obtained a jury conviction of former officer Charles Schwarz in the same case.

Thompson represented the mother of Romona Moore, a young Caribbean college student who was snatched off East Flatbush streets, and chained in a basement for days where she was raped and tortured. Her body was found tossed under an ice cream truck. When Moore’s mother begged NYPD for missing person status for her daughter, she was rebuffed and told Romona was probably with a non-existent boyfriend. Ironically, during the same time period, a wealthy white socialite went missing. NYPD pulled out all the stops, plastering Manhattan with missing person’s flyers and vans with bullhorns asking for information. That socialite was found in the East River.

Thompson gained worldwide recognition for representing Nafissatou Diallo, the Manhattan hotel maid who was sexually assaulted by Dominique Strauss-Kahn, a front runner for the French presidency at the time. Questions remain regarding how Cy Vance’s office handled the criminal prosecution, which was dropped. Thompson stood by his client until she received a civil settlement from Strauss-Kahn.

Thompson also represented the school teacher who was approached at gun-point by a drunken off-duty cop early one morning on her way to work, taken to a courtyard, and raped. After ludicrous denial, that cop was convicted.

Kenneth Thompson raised $340,000 against Abe George’s $210,000 – both from more than 400 contributions. DA Hynes raised $27,000 during the filing period and had a January closing balance of $375,000 after spending $73,000.

According to one political strategist, George and Thompson should sit down and establish benchmarks that would determine which should go to a one-on-one against Hynes. Any individual challenger would face a tough race against Hynes, but with both men of color in the race chasing contributions and volunteers, Hynes would be able to go on vacation and still win… despite questions of his prosecutorial style. 

Originally published in Our Time Press, Jan. 17, 2013.