By Hella Winston (The Jewish Week)
June 3, 2014
A newspaper editorial in 2012 critical of then-Brooklyn District Attorney Charles J. Hynes for failing to properly prosecute fervently Orthodox Jews for sex abuse prompted an angry e-mail from Hynes.
“It is a new low for dishonesty,” Hynes wrote to Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Barry Kamins. “They know … the parents of the four victims refused to allow their children to testify.”
Kamins replied: “Is it time to have the press conference that Morty suggested — with victim advocates at your side — announcing the third year anniversary of Kol Tzedek …”
Kol Tzedek was a confidential hotline created by Hynes in 2009 to encourage the reporting of sex crimes within the fervently Orthodox community. The “Morty” referred to was Mortimer Matz, to whom Hynes paid $219,824 for “public relations and communications services” in 2012 and 2013.
Those and other e-mail exchanges led the City Department of Investigation to conclude that Hynes, some senior members of his staff and Kamins may have violated codes of ethical conduct, and that Hynes may also be guilty of misappropriating funds. The department reviewed more than 6,000 e-mails sent to or received by Hynes on his office e-mail account in the 18 months prior to Hynes’ failed 2013 re-election bid.
The department’s 27-page report, which has been sent to State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman for possible criminal prosecution and to several other state agencies, said the former district attorney could face larceny charges for paying Matz with money seized from drug dealers and other criminals that the law mandates be used only for law enforcement purposes. It said it found that Matz provided “few if any actual public relations and communications services for that office,” but rather that he was a “political consultant to Hynes personally.”
According to the report, between 2003 when Matz was first hired, and 2013, his firm, Matz, Blancato and Associates, was paid a total of $1.1 million.
Robert Blancato, president of the D.C.-based firm, flatly denied that it received any of that money.
“I have never seen anything from that office,” he said.
Asked what role Matz had in the company, Blancato said: “His name is on the masthead but we are two separate entities. His name is on as a sign of respect; he helped us start the firm. But we separated a couple of years ago. … I think before 2003.”
Matz, who turns 90 next month, was reached in New York and declined comment.
The Department of Investigation was also highly critical of Kamins, whom it found had “ex-parte [e-mail] discussions regarding pending criminal matters and investigations — many of them controversial — [with Hynes] involving cases his office was handling.”
“Many of the conversations between Judge Kamins and Hynes regarding these controversial cases occurred within the context of Hynes’ political campaign (i.e., the manner in which the positive/negative publicity generated would affect Hynes’ image with voters),” the report said. “In addition to potentially interfering with the proper performance of his judicial duties, these e-mails suggest the extent to which Judge Kamins advised Hynes on high profile and sensitive matters pertaining to Hynes’ official duties as Kings County District Attorney.”
For instance, it cited a June 3, 2012 e-mail in which Kamins sent Hynes a link to an article that criticized the DA for failing to take sufficient steps to have an alleged rapist, Gershon Kranczer, extradited from Israel. Kamins then suggested: “Why couldn’t you release copies of letters to the State Department seeking extradiction [sic]?”
The department said it found that Kamins was the recipient of or was mentioned in at least 800 of the 6,000 e-mails reviewed, many of which “demonstrate that Judge Kamins engaged in political activity as a sitting judge … [and] used his office to advance Hynes’ political career.”
Kamins was appointed to the Criminal Court bench in September 2008. He was elected two months later as a justice of the Brooklyn Supreme Court. Since 2012, Kamins has been the administrative judge of the city’s Criminal Courts. A highly respected jurist, he served from 2009 until last year as the administrative judge for criminal matters in the Second Judicial District.
David Bookstaver, a spokesman for the state’s Office of Court Administration, said Kamins has been “relieved of all of his responsibilities, both as chief of policy and planning and his oversight of the New York City Criminal Court. He is now taking his annual leave time [five weeks] that is due him and we will see what develops. We have no authority to suspend him his pay.”
The Department of Investigation sent its report last week to the Commission on Judicial Conduct. It is the only body that can admonish a judge and the only one that can recommend to the State Court of Appeals the removal of a State Supreme Court justice.
Paul Schechtman, Kamis’ attorney, told The Jewish Week that his client and Hynes “have been friends for 40 years … [and] talked politics for most of those 40 years. The judge would never do anything to compromise a case or alter the course of justice. This is a mensch and everybody says he’s been a model judge. I’m proud to represent him.”
In addressing Hynes’ extensive use of his office e-mail for political purposes, the Department of Investigation said that abut 95 percent of the 6,067 e-mails examined “appear to relate in whole or in part to the reelection campaign.”
In the e-mail Hynes sent to Kamins in 2012 criticizing a newspaper editorial, Hynes insisted that the reason he allowed two sex abuse suspects, Yehuda Kolko and David Zimmer, to plead guilty to lesser charges that required no jail time was because “the parents of the four victims refused to allow their children to testify.”
However, The Jewish Week disputed that assertion regarding the Kolko case in a 2008 article. Hynes’ sex crimes chief, Rhonnie Jaus, later conceded that the parents had in fact been willing to let their children testify (http://www.thejewishweek.com/features/da_struggles_explain_kolko_plea_deal).
In a story on the Zimmer case in May 2012, the New York Times noted that in 1998 Zimmer was initially charged with more than 24 counts of sex offenses, including the rape of a 10-year-old girl. He ultimately pleaded guilty to one count of sexual abuse in the first degree and received 5 years probation.
In the report, Hynes is quoted in an e-mail as saying that Zimmer’s attorney, Asher White, is the husband of his liaison to the Jewish community, Henna White. Hynes claimed White “recused” herself from the case.
But White was cited in the Department of Investigation report for improperly engaging in political activity related to Hynes’ re-election campaign. Her activities included scheduling fundraisers with Hynes’ supporter Ben Barber.
White also headed the Kol Tzedek project. Although Hynes touted the program as highly successful, investigations by both the Jewish Week and the New York Times revealed Hynes’ office had inflated the number of sex abuse prosecutions it had undertaken through Kol Tzedek.
In an e-mail to Kamins, Hynes insisted that Kol Tzedek was an “enormous success … due to my policy of refusing to identify defendants which protects the identity of the victims.” He termed attacks on the program “mean spirited” and added: “I can only hope our circle of victim advocates will mount a letter writing campaign on my behalf to respond to this dishonesty.”
Legal observers disputed Hynes’ assertion that his tactics served to protect the names of victims. No letter writing campaign in Hynes’ behalf was ever mounted.
Several e-mails between Hynes and Kamins refer to Nechemya Weberman, a counselor from the Satmar community who was convicted in December 2012 of repeatedly sexually abusing a 12-year-old girl he was supposed to be counseling. His 103-year sentence was later cut in half. According to the e-mails, Weberman’s defense attorney, George Farkas, contacted Kamins days before sentencing and Kamins e-mailed Hynes to say that Farkas “went into a tirade about the perception in the orthodox community that you (not me!!) picked the [trial judge] so that Weberman would not get a fair trial.”
Kamins said Farkas had told him that because of this and Hynes’ handling of another case involving the sexual abuse of boys, Hynes had lost the Orthodox vote.
Kamins in a March 2013 e-mail recounted another phone call from Farkas in which Farkas said he would call Hynes to arrange a meeting with a “member of the Satmar community who has told George that ... you have done some ‘bad things’ and that he will not vote in the election and that he will be advising others to do the same.”
It is unclear from the report whether Hynes had this meeting, and also whether Kamins’ choice of judge in the Weberman case was random or in any way influenced by Hynes, who was at the time under public fire for not vigorously prosecuting Orthodox sex abuse cases.
In a reply e-mail to Kamins, Hynes said of Farkas, “He’s nuts!” and he dismissed Farkas’ “threat” about not getting the Satmar vote as “pathetic.”
Farkas was unavailable for comment.