June 3, 2014

Charles Hynes Heading to the Hoosegow?

Is former Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes destined to serve prison time? Based on a Department of Investigation report released yesterday to the New York Times, it appears he ought to be. (The NYT article is here, the DOI report here).

Former Brooklyn DA Charles Hynes
Charles Hynes was voted into office as the Brooklyn District Attorney on the strength of his role as special prosecutor in the investigation and prosecution of the 1986 racial bias attack in Howard Beach. By the time he was voted out of office in 2013, his reputation was greatly tarnished, due in no small part to deeply flawed prosecutions and convictions of innocent men, such as David Ranta and Jabbar Collins. Given the opportunity to ride off into the sunset after losing the primary election to Ken Thompson, Hynes instead fought to the bitter end, leaving in a swirl of petty vindictiveness.

Hynes's fall from grace appears far from over, based on news stories coming out now. In short, an investigation by the DOI that begun last November, indicates that Hynes tapped into $220,000 that was seized as drug forfeiture money (and therefore statutorily earmarked to be spent solely on law enforcement expenses) to pay Mortimer Matz for advising Hynes on his failed attempt to win re-election. Hynes apparently tried to disguise the payments to Matz as being for public relations and communications services performed for the DA's office, when in fact they were for Hynes's own campaign.

There's no way around it: if this happened, it was felony larceny. The DOI has turned over the investigation to the New York Attorney General, who will decide whether and how best to prosecute Hynes. Based on the apparent strength of the report, it seems quite likely that a criminal prosecution will be forthcoming.

Hynes's involvement or endorsement in scads of wrongful prosecutions by his office over the years, and his refusal to take any remedial steps until he was in the heart of the most recent re-election season, paints a picture of the proto-typical political hack. He has come to appear as a man concerned only with holding office, a prosecutor in title only, and a man lacking the moral capacity to hold the reins over such a public trust. 

The role of the prosecutor is not simply to get convictions, it is to do justice. It now falls to AG Eric Schneiderman to decide whether there will be justice for Charlie Hynes.

The DOI report also concludes that Judge Barry Kamins, a respected jurist and the administrative judge for the City's criminal courts, improperly advised Hynes throughout his campaign. These discussions apparently also touched on criminal cases that were pending in the criminal courts. According to news reports, Kamins has been relieved of his administrative oversight duties, although he cannot simply be removed as a judge by declaration. 

This part of the story is interesting because it highlights the relationships that often develop between judges and district attorneys and other lawyers, and calls into question issues of partiality and the nature of how our justice system functions. But, I would say that based on my limited knowledge, Kamins's actions indicate poor judgment, a lack of respect for boundaries and propiety, but do not suggest criminality. Certainly, not in comparison to Hynes's brazen appropriation of drug forfeiture money for personal use.

That is what we call, in legal terms, stealing. 

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