By Michael Powell (The New York Times)
August 14, 2013
Silence does not become Charles J. Hynes.
Mr. Hynes, the Brooklyn district attorney, has had a proud career. He prosecuted the white youths who chased a black man to his death in Howard Beach. And he has set up innovative programs to help troubled black and Latino youths avoid prison.
But when he took an endorsement from Councilman David G. Greenfield last week, Mr. Hynes, who is up for re-election, chose silence where the Hynes of long ago might have spoken up.
Mr. Greenfield, who represents Midwood, Borough Park and Bensonhurst in Brooklyn, attacked Kenneth P. Thompson, who is black and the opponent of Mr. Hynes in the Democratic primary. He “should scare you,” the councilman said at a news conference.
“He said he’s going to target the Jewish community,” Mr. Greenfield said as Mr. Hynes stood next to him, barely blinking. “That’s something that quite frankly is shocking. It’s outrageous, and it’s unacceptable.”
No doubt that would be outrageous, if it were true. It was not.
In January, NY1 interviewed Mr. Thompson, and he promised one standard of justice for every community.
Who, he was asked, is getting different treatment?
“Certain defendants in the Orthodox Jewish community” are being treated differently, Mr. Thompson said. “You can’t withhold the names of defendants who are accused of molesting children.”
Mr. Thompson’s recital of the facts was accurate. Mr. Hynes — as a matter of policy — obtained indictments and even convictions of Orthodox Jewish sexual abusers without ever naming them publicly. No other district attorney in the city allows such a practice, and many Jewish critics, including some brave ultra-Orthodox dissenters, say this only deepens the culture of secrecy and shame that pervades these communities.
Mr. Hynes knew this. But when he was asked at a debate on Tuesday night if Mr. Thompson had threatened to target the Jewish community, he shrugged.
“You know, David Greenfield said he was at two meetings and at one meeting Mr. Thompson said he would be very aggressive about prosecuting Jews,” Mr. Hynes said. “I have great respect for David Greenfield and if he said that’s what he heard ...”
Mr. Hynes’s voice trailed off.
Few in Brooklyn knew more about this box of matches than Mr. Hynes. He had just taken office when Crown Heights exploded in rioting against Orthodox Jews.
After his endorsement of Mr. Hynes, Mr. Greenfield punctuated it on Twitter: Hynes’s “opponent would target Jews. Don’t walk, run to the polls on 9/10!” I called the councilman on Wednesday to talk about this.
“He singled out my community,” Mr. Greenfield said. “To say that one community is treated better creates animosity.”
I told him that Mr. Thompson in fact referred only to “certain defendants” and not to the Jewish community.
I had a slight advantage over him, Mr. Greenfield said. I had listened to the taped interview more recently than he had.
The problem for Mr. Hynes is that he keeps doubling down as his narratives get overturned. Two months ago, a top aide and close friend of the district attorney, the rackets chief Michael Vecchione, sat for a deposition brought by a man, Jabbar Collins, who had served 16 years in prison for a murder he did not commit.
Mr. Vecchione, who is accused of withholding crucial evidence in that case, suffered a catastrophic memory loss. In that deposition, he offered at least 380 variations on “I do not recall.”
He did not remember details of a 2012 meeting, in which he and the sex crimes chief advised prosecutors not to write down conflicting statements by sex workers as they often defend their pimps at first.
This led to a great uproar, as prosecutors argued this would violate their legal responsibility to turn exculpatory comments over to defense lawyers.
The New York Post confirmed the meeting had taken place. Another person told me that as well. “I guess there was a spirited back and forth,” Amy Feinstein, a top deputy, said in an interview on Wednesday.
Is Mr. Hynes concerned, I asked, that Mr. Vecchione can remember nothing of it?
“You’re asking me to speculate,” said another top deputy, Dino Amoroso.
Mr. Hynes in fact vigorously defends Mr. Vecchione. And the city’s Law Department, which is defending the Brooklyn district attorney in the Collins case, recently began a highly unusual inquiry.
In court papers filed on Friday, the city demanded that Joel Rudin, the lawyer for Mr. Collins, produce the identity of whoever had told him about that 2012 meeting. It demanded “all correspondence, written or electronic” between Mr. Rudin and The New York Times, Pro Publica, The New York Post, The Daily News and The Wall Street Journal, concerning this case.
Perhaps it is reassuring that Mr. Hynes at least wants to get to the truth of something.