May 26, 2012
Brooklyn DA Joe Hynes, under increasing pressure over his office's handling of child sexual-abuse cases involving the Orthodox Jewish community, has finally taken some positive steps.
Unfortunately, not all those steps are fully in the right direction.
Yes, he publicly warned that rabbis who insist on deciding whether abuse allegations should be reported to police now risk prosecution themselves.
That was aimed directly at Agudath Israel of America, a politically powerful Orthodox group that has demanded such rabbinical pre-clearance in certain cases.
According to The Jewish Week, Hynes informed the group "that it was a mistake to advise someone with information about child abuse to first speak with a rabbi."
That "risks having the rabbi prosecuted for obstructing a law-enforcement investigation," he added.
It's a warning he should've given long ago — and one that critics have been asking him to make for years, instead of tacitly agreeing to rabbinical vetting.
But it's not enough for him to issue a warning — he has to show that he'll actually prosecute such cases.
Just as he needs to aggressively prosecute cases of witness intimidation and coercion, which is prevalent in that same community, according to numerous reports.
Hynes also says he will work to get legislation passed in Albany to add rabbis and other religious leaders to the list of those required by law to report suspicions of child sexual abuse.
Easier said than done, though.
Bills meant to do just that have been around since 2003 — and none have been passed, thanks to opposition from Agudath Israel and the Catholic Church.
Both organizations say they can support such a bill, provided it doesn't cover any past cases or suspicions — in other words, restarting the clock anew.
Which is helpful only up to a point.
Finally, Hynes disclosed that he would form a committee of law-enforcement experts to tackle the problem of witness intimidation.
Too little, too late, given widespread complaints about what is understandably perceived as a double standard by Hynes' office in handling such cases.
And it turns out the task force will be strictly "intra-agency" — those already on the DA's payroll (though a spokesman hinted he might "possibly" include some victim advocates).
Which, as one critic noted, sounds like "little more than lip service designed to quiet criticism of the DA."
Criticism that includes allegations that child sex abusers in a politically powerful community are not being fully prosecuted — and that many of those who are charged are allowed to cut favorable plea bargains.
At long last, Hynes is taking some action instead of merely circling the wagons against his critics.
Too bad it took so many years — and a glaring news media spotlight — to finally get him to move.
Let's see if he follows through.