NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Sunday, September 8, 2013, 4:05 AM
Scandal-scarred Brooklyn DA Charles Hynes must go.
The race for Brooklyn district attorney pits a 24-year incumbent finishing a deeply troubled sixth term against a lawyer who has never faced a challenge remotely on the scale of leading New York’s largest prosecution office.
Charles Hynes, 78, is running for a seventh term on a record that includes findings by two federal judges of grievous misconduct by a top aide, an investigation into whether dozens of cases produced wrongful convictions and credible charges of having failed to effectively act on sexual abuse in the politically powerful ultra-Orthodox Jewish community.
Hynes’ challenger is Kenneth Thompson. Harlem-born and raised by a single mother who served as an NYPD cop, Thompson, 48, has a legal career that encompasses only five years as a Brooklyn federal prosecutor, three years as a Manhattan law firm associate and 10 years running his own small firm — plus the use of divisive rhetoric in his biggest case.
Forced to choose between two flawed candidates, the Daily News views Thompson as holding the potential to chart the better future for the Brooklyn DA’s office. This is hardly an endorsement. It is a judgment compelled by serious evidence that Hynes has presided over miscarriages of justice.
Those include the case of Jabbar Collins, who waged a 15-year fight to prove that a top Hynes lieutenant, Michael Vecchione, had railroaded him for a rabbi’s murder. Federal Judge Dora Irizarry branded the conduct of Hynes’ office as “shameful,” based on testimony that Vecchione had pressured witnesses to implicate Collins falsely and had concealed a key recantation. After Irizarry ordered Vecchione to take the stand, Hynes dismissed all charges.
Retaining Vecchione as head of his rackets bureau, Hynes dismisses the negative testimony and sloughs off the scathing conclusion of a second jurist handling Collins’ civil suit against Hynes and the city. There, Brooklyn Federal Judge Frederic Block accused Vecchione of “horrific behavior” and declared: “Hynes hasn’t treated it seriously.”
Still more, Hynes has been forced to examine almost 40 convictions won by his aides with the apparently too-good-to-be-true work of a now-retired NYPD detective. Circling the wagons where full accountability is demanded, he ordered an internal review overseen by a panel that includes several friends and political supporters.
Further undermining confidence in the quality of justice, Hynes acknowledged an almost two-decade failure to prosecute sexual abuse in the insular ultra-Orthodox Jewish community. He has since become more effective but he shields the names of defendants, asserting that the unique abandonment of public disclosure prevents reprisals against accusers.
The double standard leaped to the fore when, at a press conference, Hynes identified four black men as having subjected an ultra-Orthodox Jewish woman to nine years of sexual servitude. Later, Hynes dismissed the indictments because a top aide had concealed that the accuser had recanted her claims.
With the record demonstrating that the Brooklyn DA’s office needs new leadership, Thompson is Hynes’ lone challenger. No headhunter would propose hiring him to lead a 500-attorney office responsible for administering justice in the city’s biggest borough.
Thompson’s five years as a federal prosecutor provided criminal justice experience but entailed no supervisory positions and only six trials. His work at a large firm was run-of-the-mill for an early-career attorney. His present firm concentrates on employment claims and consists of one other partner and 15 employees.
Adding to the reasons for wariness, Thompson displayed a lack of judgment in his highest-profile case. Representing Nafissatou Diallo, the hotel maid who accused International Monetary Fund head Dominique Strauss-Kahn of sexual assault, he tried to pressure Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance into moving against Strauss-Kahn with accusations of class bias,
He asserted that Vance was afraid to bring the rich and powerful Strauss-Kahn to trial for victimizing a poor black woman. After Vance determined that Diallo had made too many false statements to prove that the encounter had been forcible, not consensual, as Strauss-Kahn claimed, Thompson suggested Vance had given a pass to a wealthy man that he would not have given to a South Bronx bus driver, Bay Ridge plumber or Harlem construction worker.
Questioned by the Daily News Editorial Board, Thompson said he regrets those attacks. “I’ve learned immensely from that case,” he said.
At best, Thompson’s former colleagues in the Brooklyn U.S. attorney’s office say that he has the potential to grow into a capable district attorney. They cite his role as junior member of a three-person team that prosecuted the Abner Louima police assault trial. Thompson powerfully delivered the opening statement. Those who have shown faith in him include former U.S. Attorney Zachary Carter, who contributed to Thompson’s campaign.
That’s some comfort in this distressing choice for a post responsible for protecting public safety while guaranteeing the rights of the accused in New York’s busiest prosecutor’s office.