Like a moth to the flame, former prosecutor Robert Reuland couldn’t help but walk into the Barnes & Noble in Park Slope on June 21 after hearing that his old boss, Brooklyn District Attorney Charles “Joe” Hynes, was doing a book signing.
But shortly after Hynes began talking about his first novel, Triple Homicide, Reuland headed for the door.
“He started expounding about this and that,” says Reuland, “and I just couldn’t stomach it.” No surprise there. Six years ago, Hynes tossed Reuland out of his job as a prosecutor in the high-profile Homicide Bureau for doing exactly what the district attorney is now doing: hawking a book.
In February 2001, interviewed by New York magazine about his upcoming first novel, Hollowpoint, Reuland was quoted as saying, “Brooklyn is the best place to be a homicide prosecutor. We’ve got more dead bodies per square inch than anyplace else.”
Inveterate Brooklyn booster Marty Markowitz (then a state senator and now borough president) demanded Reuland’s head. With Hynes out of town, Reuland’s boss, Amy Feinstein (now Hynes’s top assistant) summoned him, and Reuland told her he didn’t mean to piss anybody off. He offered to write a letter to New York. Feinstein and another boss in Hynes’s office edited Reuland’s meek missive, in which he admitted “my hyperbolic remark” and said, “This was not intended to be, nor is it, literally true. In fact Brooklyn’s murder rate has declined more than 66 percent during the past decade.” But Hynes wasn’t mollified, taking Reuland’s comment as a personal attack on the crime reduction that Hynes believed his office was instrumental in achieving.
Reuland says Hynes accused him of landing a spot in the Homicide Bureau only to help sell his book, which is about a Brooklyn homicide prosecutor. Then Hynes demoted him to the general trial bureau. Later that year, seeing his hopes of returning to homicide cases dashed for good, Reuland resigned. He then sued Hynes for violating his free-speech rights, claiming that he was demoted only in retaliation for his comments in the magazine. A jury eventually awarded Reuland $30,000 in damages, as well as attorney’s fees now topping $100,000, after finding that the demotion was motivated by the remarks he made to the magazine.
The city attorneys representing Hynes at taxpayer expense appealed that judgment and lost in a 2 to 1 decision. Now they’re appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court. Hynes declines comment on the case for the usual reason: that it’s still pending. But he obviously still feels strongly about it. He faxed to the Voice a 15-page dissenting opinion in the city’s failed appeal in which a judge wrote that a “knowingly or recklessly false statement of fact is not protected by the First Amendment,” and that “the conflict of interest between Reuland as an author and the interests of the District Attorney’s Office in preserving its reputation for reducing crime and for honesty is a serious one and a further reason for allowing that office to discipline an employee who behaves as Reuland did.”
Reuland, now 43, insists that “I’m over it and I’m trying to move on”—meaning that he isn’t over it and clearly misses being a prosecutor. The $500,000 advance he received for
Hollowpoint and its sequel, Semiautomatic, is “long gone,” he says, and he can’t get his two subsequent non-crime novels published. He splits his time now between 10-hour writing days and taking care of his two children, relying on his wife’s public relations job to support them.
After some goading by the Voice, Reuland did read the first chapter of Hynes’s Triple Homicide. His take: “If the novel has a strength, it will be in the story. It’s not going to be in the writing.” He quickly adds: “I’m not saying it’s bad. . . . “