By Arnold Kriss (New York Daily News)
June 6, 2012
Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes' justification for not disclosing the names of sex abuse defendants in the Orthodox Jewish community as a way to protect victims and witnesses — a revelation of which much has been made lately in the press — is unpersuasive.
"I haven't seen this kind of intimidation in organized crime cases or police corruption," Hynes told the Daily News last week. "Nobody gives a damn about victims (in the Orthodox community). All they care about is protecting the abusers."
Prosecuting sex abuse cases is always tough — and the closed-off world of Orthodox Judaism does pose its own challenges. But that is no excuse for the kind of lax (some might even say nonexistent) prosecution that Hynes oversaw for some two decades — at least until becoming more aggressive in recent years.
And then there is Hynes' nondisclosure policy, which remains unchanged despite calls for openness. Hynes has been steadfast in his position that disclosing the names of arrested sexual predators from this insular community will discourage future victims from coming forward.
What makes Hynes' position indefensible is that, while he has long protected Orthodox Jews accused of sex crimes, he has no hesitation releasing defendants' names in similar cases when it comes to other groups.
For instance, on Jan. 26, 2011, Hynes announced the indictment of two men (neither an Orthodox Jew) who forced teenage girls into prostitution. One of the victims filed a report that resulted in the arrest of two named defendants.
A year later, in another press release, Hynes' office announced the indictments of 43 gang members, disclosing the names of the gang leaders charged and describing the crimes perpetrated against the unnamed victims.
Any of the violent gang-affiliated defendants who were charged could have easily figured out the identity of the victims and witnesses by simply reading that press release.
These in-the-open prosecutions demonstrate the imbalance of Hynes' practice of disclosing only the identities of certain charged defendants who live in certain communities — while keeping the public in the dark about other defendants, perhaps those who come from powerful voting blocs whose support Hynes needs.
After all, gang members and pimps do not simply "shun" a victim who reports a crime, as is supposedly done by the Orthodox. Instead, they often intimidate, threaten, coerce and, in some cases, kill, witnesses and victims.
Even without publicly disclosing an Orthodox defendant's name to protect a victim, the extremely personal nature of a sex abuse allegation usually means that the victim's and witness' identity is discernible to an alleged sex abuse defendant and his lawyer.
All they have to do is to read the factual portion of a criminal complaint and review other material furnished by the prosecutor.
And while the criminal case is pending for months, nothing stops a criminal defendant from disclosing that an informant lives among them, thus opening the floodgates of intimidation.
In other words, Hynes' "discretion" does nothing for the very victim he purports to serve. It just garners him favor from a group that does not like attention drawn to itself.
But that's not how our criminal justice system should work; the rule of law requires equal treatment for all individuals. A district attorney who represents the people of Brooklyn compromises the mission of his office by serving one community's self-interest for secrecy. This unequal treatment is unacceptable no matter how you justify it.
Kriss, a former Brooklyn assistant district attorney who challenged Hynes in 2005, has also served as a Police Department deputy commissioner for trials. He is currently in private practice in Manhattan.