New York Times Editorial
June 3, 2014
When Kenneth Thompson was campaigning last year to unseat the Brooklyn district attorney, Charles Hynes, his main line of attack was that the office Mr. Hynes had run for nearly 24 years was ethically compromised, badly managed and a discredit to law enforcement.
Voters got the message. Instead of giving a seventh term to a prosecutor whose office was scarred by a ballooning wrongful-conviction scandal and years of accusations of political favoritism, they chose Mr. Thompson. The graceless exit of Mr. Hynes — he ran and lost as a Republican in the general election after being defeated by Mr. Thompson in the Democratic primary — was made worse when he approved a lavish payout to a retiring deputy on his way out the door.
Now Mr. Hynes’s reputation is sliding still lower, from the tawdry to the possibly criminal. A report from the New York City Department of Investigation accuses him of an array of misdeeds, from conflict-of-interest and City Charter violations to possible felony larceny. The 27-page report, published in The Times on Tuesday, said Mr. Hynes used nearly $220,000 seized from drug dealers and other criminal defendants — money that is supposed to be used only for law enforcement — to pay a political consultant for his re-election campaign.
It said he used his official email account for campaign business and got high-level members of his staff, during business hours, to do campaign work. And it said he enlisted a justice on the New York State Supreme Court, Barry Kamins, as an adviser during his campaign. This would be a staggeringly unethical arrangement for a sitting judge and prosecutor to cook up. Justice Kamins was relieved of administrative duties on Monday.
Mr. Thompson is in the middle of investigating 90 potentially tainted murder convictions, including 57 cases tied to a retired detective, Louis Scarcella, whose methods are deeply suspect — all matters that arose during the Hynes tenure. Now more splatter from those years falls to still others to clean up, including the state attorney general, to whom the city’s investigation has been referred, and the city and state comptrollers to see how and where the money was spent.
Mr. Hynes, a political creature from the swamplands of Brooklyn politics, liked to keep a firm grip on his public image (he opened his office to CBS for his own reality show, “Brooklyn D.A. ”), and always had ready answers for his critics. His low felony conviction rate, he said, came from his innovative use of alternatives to prison. His refusal to release the names of ultra-Orthodox Jews convicted of sexual abuse was not, he argued, an effort to pander to a powerful constituency but a compassionate way to protect victims from shunning.
Now comes the report from the Department of Investigation, which draws on thousands of emails that show Mr. Hynes relentlessly politicking, misusing official resources on official time, and scheming with Justice Kamins to try to win endorsements (including that of this editorial page). It will be hard to explain away this damning body of evidence.