Ex-Brooklyn DA Charles Hynes honored as ‘reformer’ and slammed by people wrongfully convicted in cases he prosecuted

By Andrew Keshner and Christina Carrega (New York Daily News)
May 23, 2017

A long-overdue retirement party for the former district attorney at a high-end Manhattan restaurant left a bad taste in the mouths of the wrongful conviction community after revelers doted his career as a “reformer."

Dozens of members of the Brooklyn criminal justice circle flocked to the Water Club in Manhattan on May 19 to honor the career of ex-DA Charles Hynes.

“Former Brooklyn DA Charles Hynes should not be honored, he should have been indicted. And those who celebrate him should be ashamed,” said Lonnie Soury, co-founder of Families for the Wrongfully Convicted.

The event was organized by Arthur Aidala, a rumored candidate for both district attorney and Brooklyn U.S. Attorney.

Amongst the notable attendees at the afternoon luncheon from 12:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. were Brooklyn’s Chief Administrative Judge Matthew D’Emic, Justice Shawn’Dya Simpson, Hynes's former counsel Lance Ogiste as well as the only candidate for district attorney, Patricia Gatling.

“Pat Gatling’s race for district attorney is over. I knew candidates who were willing to carry her petitions but not after this,” said John O’Hara, who was the 22nd person whose conviction was overturned by the office’s renowned Conviction Review Unit.

The CRU was renamed and revamped after Hynes was voted out by Brooklynites in 2013 and the late DA Ken Thompson took office. Thompson, 50, died of colorectal cancer in October 2016.

“There are hundreds, maybe thousands of innocent young, now old men, who have spent the better part of their lives in prison as a result of the actions of Charles Hynes," said Soury.

"Yes, it's horrible. Yes, it's unfortunate," David Schwartz, an event organizer, said of the vacated Brooklyn cases. That didn't mean Hynes and supporters had to be "anymore ashamed that we should be singled out."

There were cases where Hynes' office was stuck with the witnesses they had. "That happens everywhere. It's not a Brooklyn problem," Schwartz said.

Amongst the 22 wrongful convictions overturned after Hynes’s 24-year reign, seven cases were centered around the questionable tactics of retired NYPD Detective Louis Scarcella.

"His (Hynes's) office worked closely with disgraced Brooklyn Detective Louis Scarcella to prosecute cases in which innocent defendants were coerced into false confessions, witnesses were pressured to lie and evidence was manufactured. As heinous as Detective Scarcella's actions were in obtaining hundreds of wrongful convictions, there would be no Scarcella today without Charles Hynes," said Soury.

Hynes, who suffered a stroke a year ago, was highlighted by his son at the event for establishing initiatives like the Drug Treatment Alternative-to-Prison Program.

The 81-year-old former prosecutor was "a pioneer” — pointing to a range of diversion and re-entry efforts.

“How many lives has Joe Hynes saved by having those programs?" asked Schwartz.

The event, that cost guest $165 a ticket, may have been a ruse for Hynes’s defense fund, a source told the Daily News.

"Every dime went to the event. Not one dime went to Joe Hynes,” said Schwartz, who strongly denounced the fund-raiser claims.

Actually, said Schwartz, between things like paying for a band, tips and other out of pocket expenses the organizers were in the red by about $2,000 and would pay the difference out of their pockets.

Reps from Gatling’s campaign did not return requests for comment.

Gatling has not filed any fund-raising contributions, records show.