Brooklyn Deserves a New D.A.

Why the 23-year reign of Charles Hynes must end

Brooklyn Deserves a New D.A.
Illustration By Drew Friedman

Late on October 18, a Thursday, veteran criminal defense lawyer Mark Bederow was frustrated. He had made a half-dozen formal requests over a period of months for more documents in the Brooklyn armed-robbery case of 64-year-old Ronald Bozeman, and it felt like he was banging his head against a wall.

As Bozeman languished in jail, Bederow had learned a series of disturbing things about the case that led him to believe it should have been dismissed months earlier. But the promised documents—known as "Brady material" after the relevant case law—had not arrived.

Shortly after 5 p.m., he sent an e-mail to prosecutor Sabeeha Madni, who works for Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes. "Please send the documents immediately," he wrote.

The Kingpin: Brooklyn D.A. Charles Hynes assumes the position during a December press conference. In his sixth term, he has become mired in controversy.
Caleb Ferguson
The Kingpin: Brooklyn D.A. Charles Hynes assumes the position during a December press conference. In his sixth term, he has become mired in controversy.
Hynes was excoriated by a federal judge for protecting prosecutor Michael Vecchione in the midst of misconduct allegations.
Courtesy CNBC
Hynes was excoriated by a federal judge for protecting prosecutor Michael Vecchione in the midst of misconduct allegations.

Two hours later, Madni responded. "Relax," she sniffed. "You'll get them. It's not like any of that material exonerates your client anyway, so it's not even technically Brady."

Madni turned out to be wrong. And Ronald Bozeman would spend more than a year in jail for a crime he didn't commit.

A number of cases like Bozeman's have lately cast Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes and his office in a less-than-flattering light. There have been repeated allegations of prosecutorial misconduct, political influence peddling, and basic ineptitude. Hynes has been widely criticized, for example, for shielding rapists and pedophiles in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities in Brooklyn as a way of currying favor with politically influential rabbis. And several high-profile criminal cases have fallen apart after revelations that his office has either manipulated evidence or withheld exculpatory evidence it is required to disclose to defense attorneys. In several cases, innocent men spent months or even years behind bars.

"It seems that the culture of that office has reached a point where its reputation has suffered tremendously," says Bennett Gershman, a leading expert on prosecutorial misconduct who teaches law at Pace University. "People look at that office as a place that cares about winning and pleasing certain constituencies and really doesn't show a sense of doing justice. The other sense is that it's a political office, and Hynes is a political prosecutor. He's been there a long time. Maybe he's been there too long."

It's certainly the case that Hynes has been in office for a political eternity: 23 years, through six terms, six police commissioners, and three mayors. He has held sway through the racially motivated slaying of Yusuf Hawkins in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn; through the Crown Heights riots and the conviction of Charles Price and Lemrick Nelson; the precinct-house assault of Abner Louima by officer Justin Volpe; and the corruption trials of judges Victor Barron and Gerald Garson. And those are just a few highlights from a long list.

Now 77 years old, Hynes came from a modest start in a chaotic Flatbush home. He was educated in city Catholic schools and at St. John's, then spent six years as a Legal Aid lawyer before becoming a prosecutor in Brooklyn. He was fire commissioner under Ed Koch. Governor Mario Cuomo named him a special prosecutor in 1985. His pursuit as a special prosecutor of Michael Griffith's killers in the infamous 1987 Howard Beach case catapulted him to prominence and led to his 1989 election as Kings County District Attorney. He has been there ever since.

But Hynes's relatively brisk rise in the '80s flatlined in the '90s. In 1994, he ran for state attorney general and lost to Karen Burstein in the primary (though he did outpoll future attorney general and governor Eliot Spitzer). In 1998, he ran for governor and lost badly in the Democratic primary to Peter Vallone, who in turn lost to incumbent George Pataki.

Hynes never again sought higher office, leading some observers to suggest he is a man with bruised ambitions. Even as a long-entrenched incumbent Democrat running for D.A. in a Democratic Party stronghold, he has sometimes struggled. His primary win in 2005 was surprisingly close: With more than 115,000 votes cast, he won just 41 percent, beating out the second-place finisher, African-American state senator John Sampson, by 5,600 votes. And while he ran unopposed for D.A. in 2009, now, with the 2013 election less than a year away, two challengers have already emerged: Kenneth Thompson, a well-known criminal defense lawyer who represented the maid who accused the prominent French politician Dominique Strauss-Kahn of sexual assault, and Abraham George, a 33-year-old former Manhattan prosecutor.

"He was vulnerable in 2005, and he's vulnerable now," said a longtime Hynes observer. "The real issue is Mr. and Mrs. Jones in Bed-Stuy or along Ocean Parkway, what they think, whether they care about this stuff."

If you look at Hynes's official biography, you'd be tempted to think he was more interested in social welfare than in prosecuting felons. It focuses largely on community programs he developed: the first nursing home fraud units; a family justice center, dedicated to his mother, a victim of domestic violence; an early alternative treatment program for drug offenders; programs to help prisoners re-enter society; a gun buy-back program now replicated citywide.

"Hynes has been one of the most innovative prosecutors in the country," says Ken Fisher, a lawyer and former city councilman who was involved in Hynes's first campaign for D.A. "But it's very hard to sustain innovation over a long period of time."

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15 comments
laindia1011
laindia1011

that is  so so so true,what this reporter wrote about the D.A' s office.   as a parent i spent so much money (my pension) to  prove my son's innocent due to that fact that the D.A.'s  office held very important information.regarding  my son's innocent(  Three(3) years worth of going to court (very stress ful and broke)  Their has to be an oversight committee put in place it's call accountability.

jake68jake1
jake68jake1

Cindy - what a huge and unpleasant surprise you're in for if Hynes is not re-elected. You think that a new DA will take it easy on your community? (You're obviously Hasidic). A new DA will swiftly and strongly show how " different" he is from Hynes by indicting and prosecuting as many Hasidim as humanly possible. He will cloak the effort under the guise of "finally doing justice." You and your ilk are so naive and limited by your egocentric, sheltered and arrogant worldview that you can't see any vision of reality. Hynes has been nothing but fair in his approach to these prosecutions, but what does he get for it? Vilified by victim's advocates when his efforts to bring cases are thwarted, and lambasted by Hasidic community leaders when he brings cases. It's a lose-lose that's been turned into a political issue by his rivals. Keep being naive and You'll get what you deserve.

taospark
taospark

@jake68jake1 Wait, so your rationale for letting Hynes stay in office despite valid criticisms is because a potential rival is going to persecute one of the most powerful voting blocs in Brooklyn?


In what realm of possibility is that anyone's realistic expectation?

CindyTown
CindyTown

Charles Hynes our DA, is see through,  when he wants the Orthodox votes, he tampers evidence and gets someone imprisoned for killing a Rabbi, that guy proved he wasnt the one and he is out of prison . 

Now he wants to show a small minority that he is anti orthodox, he illegally indites, Yigutkin and Weberman and stands behind the clown N Rosenberg. 

Hey DA, your off the track, wait until you are either taken down or beaten by landslide.   Hey Guys,,, Thompson or Gorges time to take over.  Youll get the orthodox in a full bloc and throw him right over.  Instead of giving a fair trial ,Charles Hynes to show he is not on orthodox side,  arraigns and indites and influences  illegally . In between there are other cases to  show.    What a fool of a person who finally reached  an old age.  DA imprisoned people and he sits on the victory of it.  Did he particularly make sure its without reasonable doubt? Or does he want to show that he is  not treating  Orthodox unfairly? 

You can do it the righteous way not the uncaring way.  Sorry your tripping on your own garbage.

If the Media is reporting half heartily,  only so that there is a good listen  and follow, understandable (although it isnt fair) But a District Attorney is irresponsible, if he does it, and should be toppled over. 

If you want to reach the orthodox and campaign against Charles Hynes, ask the village voice to contact me , and Ill check out if you are for real.


Cindy T


Vincenzo
Vincenzo

Graham:
Thank you for penning this piece. Just wanted to add my two cents:


The mention of John O'Hara's troubles with Hynes could have been elaborated upon a bit more, especially since the issue wasn't so cut and dried. You neglected to mention an ancillary issue - the case of the Kung-Fu Judge, who was stripped of his wealth, his properties and eventually, his life. Being declared "incompetent" and getting remanded to an entity purporting to be an assisted care living facility that acted more like a remote wing of San Quentin would hamper your chances of putting up a successful campaign of running for the office of the District Attorney of Brooklyn, I imagine.


A second issue which I think would have really put the icing on the cake is the "Grid Kid" slaying, also known as the case of John Giuca in the murder of Mark Fisher. From the issue of witnesses who should have been suspects, to the issue of juror misconduct, I wonder how mention of this case dropped between the slats.


I did learn about many other cases, thanks to your article, but I think adding this information would have really made your article a home run. As it is, I'd like to see this double play steal third base, with no outs.

http://www.r8ny.com/blog/1020

jake68jake1
jake68jake1

Oh yeah, Hynes panders to Jews by putting their leaders in prison.  Good one.  What - you say that he just recently started doing that, just to cover his ass?  Well why don't you ask any defense attorney who has handled a sex crimes case in Brooklyn in the last 15 years, how many prosecutions against Jews (or anyone else) have they seen "let go" or swept under the rug - the answer will be ZERO.  In fact, such cases are over-prosecuted.  They go after such defendants mercilessly, often too much so (because not every defendant is actually guilty).  The reality here is far different from the perception.  It's just easy for idiots without first-hand knowledge to say, "yeah, Hynes is in bed with the Jews, they control everything, they get their cases swept aside."  It's total nonsense.  The sex cases against Hasidic Jews that ended in probation or dismissal did so because the victim (or his/her family) wanted it that way, to avoid a public trial.  It's their community's fault for intimidating or ostracizing the victims, and for making it virtually impossible for Hynes to indict anyone for tampering.  Get some direct experience, learn some facts, and let go of the casual conclusions and rumors.

Bklynsfinest
Bklynsfinest

@jake68jake1 Jake Tell the truth here, do you work for Mr. Hynes, Or are you applying for a soon to be opening in his office.

XProsecutor
XProsecutor like.author.displayName 1 Like

Mr. Hynes panders to the Jews. No Lie. No Bullshit. No justice . Politics

jake68jake1
jake68jake1

This is all a disgusting effort to ruin a good man, who works himself to the bone for the people of Brooklyn and has demonstrated unprecedented success, year after year. You should be ashamed of yourselves for cherry picking negative isolated incidents, making conclusions on innuendo, and ignoring the other side of the stories.

Bklynsfinest
Bklynsfinest

@jake68jake1 So even if they were isolated incidents, what! We must turn a blind eye because he did well in the past. Someone must be held accountable for the crimes against these innocent people. These cases had obvious evidence showing their innocence and it was covered up, these are crimes. How do these people sleep at night knowing they placed innocent people in jail for 20 years and sometimes life?

BrooklynKnows
BrooklynKnows like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

Thank you Graham for a well written summary of the heinous acts committed by Brooklyn DA Hynes and his henchman Michael Veccione.  Sadly this article merely touches on the tip of the iceberg, there are so many more and worse stories to tell.

One hopes that the reporting will continue and force this man to retire. Or force the federal government to step in and hold him and Veccione accountable for their actions.

The sad part of this story is that while Veccione has always been a thug, Hynes was once a good prosecutor who had respect for the law.  Look at him now.

jake68jake1
jake68jake1

John Doe - you've just described every DA's Office in the City, from the perspective of a career and bitter defense attorney (although you have more of a point when it comes to the Manhattan Office, much more so than Brooklyn). The objective fact is that no DA has instituted the kinds of programs and reforms that Hynes has and continues to do (see the Drew House program and Project Redirect, for example). Offices all over the country didn't emulate his programs because they play politics or trample due process. You have ample right to be pissed over ADA's mishandling cases or failing to "do the right thing" when you think it's "obvious", but you're dead wrong to think that Hynes' office or approach cultivates such behavior to any unique degree. And, by the way, I am not an ADA. Just an informed and involved Brooklynite. It's amazing what happens when you're objective and know the facts.

JohnDoe
JohnDoe like.author.displayName 1 Like

@jake68jake Your punctuation and grammar lead me to believe you are one of his little green robot prosecutors.  That office has been a joke for years and everyone who practices in
Brooklyn, including the judges, knows it.  Untrained and incompetent ADAs with no understanding of due process or that the job of a prosecutor is to seek justice.  They simply lie, hide and climb that pathetic little ladder over there.

jake68jake
jake68jake

This article is an entirely one-sided attack ad, making noi effort to explore the other side of the stores and citing a few "allegations" and innuendo as evidence of widespread "corruption" or "misconduct." There is no effort to seek the actual truth, or review the literally thousands of achievements by DA Hynes or the dozens of nationally recognized programs that he conceived and successfully implemented. Comically, the article, in an ultra liberal newspaper, starts off criticizing Hynes for his extensive social service work - all of which has resulted in historic reductions of crime and, more importantly, recidivism - and then turns to attacking how aggressive Hynes' office has been in prosecuting felons. The author is obviously in bed with Abe George, a rookie with barely any experience as a prosecutor who thinks he can run one of the largest DA's Offices in the nation. And quoting Gershman, a wholesale lawbreaker and ethics violator infamous for his time under Maurice Nadjari, is another big laugh. All of this is a joke. The people of Brooklyn are very fortunate to have, and to have had, DA Hynes implementing the kind of groundbreaking programs that turn crime around, and exhibit the fearlessness it takes to challenge and prosecute establishment corruption such as the party bosses, Hasidic community enforcers, etc. With only a bit of even handedness, the truth would be obvious. No one ever accused the Voice of caring about such things, though. Talk about an agenda...

1sensei
1sensei

Why don't you investigate Cy Vance. He seems to run a very political organization

 
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