THE BLOG

"A Scandal Grows in Brooklyn" -- the Problem When a D.A. Plays Politics

09/28/2012 03:08 pm ET | Updated Nov 28, 2012

In 2011, when Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes stated "Vito is a good guy," it was clear to the people of Brooklyn that their district attorney would never investigate any corruption regarding Lopez.

The press shifted their hopes to District Leader Lincoln Restler as the knight in shining armor who would battle the Lopez political machine. People felt that their hopes were dashed as preliminary results show that Lincoln might have lost in a closely contested race, but corruption isn't fought by district leaders. That job rests with one person, Charles J. Hynes.

"Vitogate" all could have been avoided if D.A. Hynes had been doing his job.

It goes unsaid that to run for district attorney you must engage in political activities. But unlike most elected positions, your political hat must be removed once you're on the job. One of the district attorney's roles is to prosecute political corruption, which means maintaining an arm's-length relationship with politicians and party bosses.

Throughout his 22-year career as district attorney, Charles Hynes has never taken off his political fedora. Instead, Hynes has developed cozy relationships with those who could help him politically, including Vito Lopez.

When the Lopez scandal erupted, Hynes side-stepped instead of taking action, and asked the court to appoint another prosecutor to handle the case in his place. The sole reason he cited for his recusal was that he had received political support from Lopez in his campaigns for district attorney. But clearly, there was more to Hynes' relationship with Lopez which rendered Hynes unable or unwilling to do his job than just some prior political support. How do we know?

Almost a decade ago, Hynes investigated and prosecuted Lopez's predecessor, Brooklyn Democratic boss Clarence Norman, trying Norman four separate times, even though Norman supported Hynes multiple times in his races for attorney general, governor and district attorney.

Welcome to the inconsistent politically infused style of prosecution that has defined Hynes' legacy as Brooklyn district attorney.

This is not the first time that Hynes has permitted his prosecutorial discretion to give way to his self-serving quest to retain the position he has held since the Cold War. In 2001, when Judge John L. Phillips decided to run against Hynes, D.A. Hynes used the courts to have Judge Phillips declared mentally incompetent. In 2003, when civil rights attorney Sandra Roper was preparing to run against Hynes for the second time, she found herself subject to felony criminal charges initiated by Hynes' Office.

So it is not surprising that Hynes, who had two chances to investigate his political confederate Vito Lopez before 2012, turned a blind eye.

In 2005, the Brooklyn D.A. refused to investigate a complaint from community leaders that alleged Lopez was voting from a sham address in Brooklyn while he was living in Queens. Conveniently, Hynes prosecuted John O'Hara for similar charges in three separate trials in the late 1990s after O'Hara ran against a political ally of Hynes.

In 2010, Hynes recused himself from a New York City Department of Investigation probe into Lopez's Ridgewood Bushwick senior center, which revealed that Lopez's girlfriend and campaign treasurer were receiving a combined salary of over a million dollars.

Earlier this year, Hynes came under fire when the media exposed his policy of not disclosing the names of pedophile defendants from Brooklyn's ultra-Orthodox community. This aberrant position, which sent shockwaves throughout the law enforcement community, shields pedophiles while sacrificing children. This position was clearly motivated by Hynes' desire to appease the powerful rabbinical figures who delivered a much-needed voting block for Hynes.

As a former prosecutor, I have seen first-hand the critical importance of pursuing justice with no regard for special interests. That is because a district attorney should never play politics with people's lives. Mr. Hynes clearly thinks differently. As a result, the virus that began with Lopez in Bushwick has now spread to Albany.

So goes Lopez, so should Hynes.