Opinion: Does DA Hynes Deserve to Be Re-elected? I Think Not

Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes. (Photo by Shulamit Seidler-Feller, via The Jewish Daily Forward)

Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes. (Photo by Shulamit Seidler-Feller, via The Jewish Daily Forward)

On Tuesday, September 10, Brooklyn voters will decide who will be their next district attorney. Voters will either re-elect Charles J. Hynes, 78, to a seventh term; or, they will deliver a victory to Kenneth P. Thompson, 47, the challenger.

For BBN’s series The Real Untouchables: District Attorneys-Prosecutors, and as a CUNY Graduate School of Journalism political reporting fellow, I have closely watched and reported on the Brooklyn D.A.’s race.  I covered candidate debates; conducted research on the role and impact of district attorneys; interviewed criminal law scholars, political analysts and operatives, journalists, clergy, community stakeholders; and, spoke with former and current employees in the district attorney’s office. Abe George, who dropped out of the race in July, and Thompson completed BBN’s candidate questionnaire. District Attorney Hynes has not responded to several BBN inquiries.

Based on findings from more than one year of research, coverage and reporting, it is my opinion that Charles Hynes should not be Brooklyn district attorney. After 23 years in office, Hynes’ failure as a leader makes a strong case for why New York City’s district attorneys should be held to the same term limits as every other elected official.

Attorney Kenneth Thompson is challenging D.A. Hynes in the September 10 primary. (Photo from Thompson's law firm website)

Attorney Kenneth Thompson is challenging D.A. Hynes in the September 10 primary. (Photo from Thompson’s law firm website)

The gross degree of cronyism (even by New York City’s political standards); failed leadership and management; and, the pressing matter of an inordinate amount of wrongful prosecutions and widespread misconduct, all amount to a dysfunctional public institution, where change in leadership is necessary.

Here is the evidence that shows why Hynes is not good for Brooklyn; black, Latino and economically disadvantaged communities; and, the criminal justice system.

Currently, more than 50 cases are under review by the D.A.’s own conviction integrity unit, created in 2010. It is possible that tainted evidence was used to convict innocent people.  The office prosecutes more than 50,000 criminal cases each year.  The obvious question: How many more cases are possibly flawed?

 Michael F. Vecchione, a top prosecutor in the office, is at the center of a $150 million civil lawsuit, filed by Jabbar Collins, who served 16-years in prison for a crime he did not commit. In the civil complaint, Vecchione and other prosecutors in the Brooklyn D.A.’s office are accused of gross misconduct, including coercing witnesses to give false and unreliable testimony, concealing evidence that was favorable to Collins and, lying and misleading the court and defense counsel to cover up their unlawful behavior.

 In 2012, several men were released from jail or prison, as a result of wrongful convictions due to either sloppy work or deceitful practices by attorneys in the Brooklyn D.A.’s office.  All of these men – Ronald Bozeman, William Lopez, Lawrence Williams and Darrell Dula – had these common characteristics: they were either black, Latino and/or economically disadvantaged.

 In the late 1990s and throughout the 2000s, former New York Time’s columnist Bob Herbert wrote a series of articles on the criminal justice system. He focused specifically on the wrongful prosecution, misconduct and unethical tactics out of the Brooklyn D.A.’s office. Those practices and tactics adversely impacted people of color:  Rubin OrtegaAntowine ButtsJeffrey BlakeAnthony Faison, Charles ShepherdLamont Branch,Timothy Crosby and Zaher Zahrey are all Brooklyn men who were wrongfully charged and/or prosecuted by the Brooklyn D.A.’s office, under the leadership of Hynes.

 Multiple civil lawsuits have been filed by people who served prison and jail time for crimes they did not commit, or convictions that were overturned based on allegations of prosecutorial misconduct. (When the city of New York is sued for wrongful convictions due to prosecutorial misconduct the pay-out/settlement is paid by taxpayer dollars.)

In  2012, Hynes was accused of cronyism when he declined to investigate his political patron, New York Assemblyman and former Brooklyn Democratic Party boss Vito Lopez for ethics violations.

 Hynes has been criticized for shielding sexual predators in the ultra-Orthodox community by refusing to release the names of individuals who are accused of child sex abuse and molestation. Hynes defended the policy of protecting the identity of ultra-Orthodox and Hasidic child sex abusers, but he does not extend that same protection to sex abusers from other groups outside those communities. Darrell Dula, for example, was wrongly detained for the rape of a 16-year-old Orthodox Jewish girl, who recanted her tale to police investigators.

 There is an internal system of management that excuses and defends white attorneys for their unethical behavior and egregious misconduct; and yet, there is a system that reserves severe, career-ending consequences for black and Latino attorneys. It is a noticeable and unreported pattern in the office.

Hynes Has Lost His Way

The bar of reproach for the district attorney, and that of each and every assistant district attorney in the office, has to be higher than any other elected official. The stakes are high, and trust in the system is critical. When there is a breach of ethics and standards in the district attorney’s office, innocent people could go to prison, and guilty people are not prosecuted.

Charles Hynes has breached public trust.

With all the public now knows about Hynes’ leadership, this question lingers: How many more innocent people could be languishing in the state prison system because of breached trust and prosecutorial misconduct?  How many guilty people roam free?

The Line and Moment of Accountability

In light of all that has been exposed about the goings on in the Brooklyn D.A.’s office, it is unclear why the U.S. Department of Justice, the State Attorney General, or even the Governor have not stepped in to review or oversee the office. In absence of governing bodies stepping in with the political courage and moral will to do what is necessary and right, the only line of accountability will be the voting public, on Tuesday.

The black Community and Hynes. Does he Own black Politicians?

During this campaign season, a sharpened edge of patriarchal arrogance and complicity in race-baiting surfaced from Hynes.

In describing his grip on the black community, a key voting bloc he’s commanded for much of his 23-year tenure, Hynes said, “The black community, by and large, is mine. Every black assembly member, every black state senator, every black councilmember, all of the black district leaders, all support me.” That is what Hynes said last month in an interview with Hamodia, a Jewish publication.

Also in August, at an endorsement press conference held in an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood, Hynes stood silent while City Councilman David Greenfield used rhetoric to inject fear of Thompson, Hynes’ challenger, who is black. New York Times writer Michael Powell wrote in August:

Mr. Greenfield, who represents Midwood, Borough Park and Bensonhurst in Brooklyn, attacked Kenneth P. Thompson, who is black and the opponent of Mr. Hynes in the Democratic primary. He “should scare you,” the councilman said at a news conference.  “He said he’s going to target the Jewish community,” Mr. Greenfield said as Mr. Hynes stood next to him, barely blinking. “That’s something that quite frankly is shocking. It’s outrageous, and it’s unacceptable.”

Hynes represents all that is wrong with a system of unchecked power. His poor leadership and management; cronyism; mean-vindictive spirit and hubris are symptomatic of a politician who has been in power for too, too long.  His record shows he is not good for Brooklyn, the office of the district attorney, or the criminal justice system.

As an elected official, Hynes has brought distrust and shame to the office of district attorney, and he makes the privileged and prestigious role of prosecutor seem grimy and corrupt.

Kenneth Thompson is the logical and right choice. Fortunately for the public, Thompson is a worthy and fully capable choice to represent Brooklyn as district attorney.

The election is on Tuesday, September 10. Please, por favor, for the love of community and human kind, get out and vote.

This article was first published on BBN and is part of the series The Real Untouchables: District Attorneys-Prosecutors. It was also written as part of the Covering NYC: Political Reporting Fellowship of the Center for Community and Ethnic Media and funded by a grant from the Charles H. Revson Foundation.

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  1. Pingback: Scandals, Upsets and Firsts in Council Races | Voices of NY

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