Credit the Times -- and the Jewish Week

After 23 years of subservience to the borough's powerful ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, Brooklyn District Attorney Joe Hynes announced the indictment of four men for attempting to silence an alleged victim of sexual abuse.
06/25/2012 07:00 pm ET Updated Aug 25, 2012

When the New York Times speaks, people the world over pay attention.

Even in Brooklyn.

Witness Brooklyn District Attorney Joe Hynes. After 23 years of subservience to the borough's politically powerful ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, he announced to great fanfare last week the indictment of four Hasidic men for attempting to silence an alleged victim of sexual abuse.

In recent weeks, the Times reported, Hynes has been saying that the ultra-Orthodox community's intimidation of witnesses rivaled that of organized crime, which Hynes claims to know something about. [Before every Super Bowl he indicts some mob-connected bookmakers.]

In 2006, he announced the indictment of retired FBI agent Lindley DeVecchio for giving information to the Colombo crime family that led to four murders. Hynes called the allegations against DeVecchio "the most stunning example of official corruption I have ever seen." He subsequently dropped the charges when his star witness, a mob moll, was unmasked as a liar.

What turned Joe around on the ultra-Orthodox was a two-part Times series that documented his willingness to allow prominent figures in that community to cover up allegations of sexual abuse involving children.

Actually, this documentation started a few years before in the Jewish Week with articles by Hella Winston, Barnard College graduate [magna cum laude], holder of a Ph.D. in sociology and the author of Unchosen: The Hidden Lives of Hasidic Rebels.

The Times, in its two-part series, failed to credit Ms Winston's reporting, an omission noted by its ombudsman-like Public Editor Arthur Brisbane, who criticized the Times' metropolitan editor.

Under the headline "Credit Where Credit is Due," Brisbane wrote on May 19 that "the Times' second article, which focused on the Brooklyn District Attorney, Charles J. Hynes, reported that his office had made inflated claims about the effectiveness of an abuse hot line he had set up. Ms Winston had reported similar findings in the Jewish Week two weeks earlier."

Criticizing the Times, however, brings its own difficulties.

Two days later, on May 21, the Times reported that Brisbane "will leave the paper in September and not stay for an optional third year."

"It's a pretty intense job," Times reporter Christine Haughney quoted Brisbane. "You're very often bringing forward issues that cause some discomfort inside the paper."

In an email to NYPD Confidential , Brisbane denied his departure was related to his May 19 column about the Hasidic sexual abuse scandal, explaining he had decided to resign months earlier.

"I had informed the Times many months earlier of my intent to complete my two-year contract on Sept. 1 but take a pass on the option for a third year," he wrote in his email.

The person who should be leaving his job is Hynes, now in his 23rd year as Brooklyn DA, a prime example of the need for term limits for district attorneys.

Once a reformer who aspired to become mayor, attorney general and governor, Hynes' every action as Brooklyn District Attorney is now motivated by publicity or politics. He is a law enforcement official turned politician who has been too long in office whose ambition has turned to cynicism.

Besides cozying up to the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, he has reversed himself on the death penalty; placed a former Brooklyn borough president on his payroll as "director of community and civic affairs" at $125,000 a year; and indicted his election opponents.
The harm he has inflicted while in service to the ultra-Orthodox is incalculable.
Go no farther than Jabbar Collins.

Convicted of fatally shooting Rabbi Abraham Pollock, Collins spent 15 in prison before recent revelations of prosecutorial misconduct led to his release.

In her 2010 decision overturning Collins' conviction , Federal Judge Dora Irizarry cited "compelling evidence" that Hynes' office "had wrongfully withheld a key witness's recantation, had knowingly coerced and relied on false testimony and argument at trial, had knowingly suppressed exculpatory and impeachment evidence and had acted affirmatively to cover up such misconduct for 15 years."

Irizarry had a word for such behavior: she called it "shameful."

WHERE WAS CY? [Cont.] Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance -- conspicuously absent at Police Commissioner Ray Kelly's monumental news conference announcing the arrest and confession of Pedro Hernandez in Etan Patz's disappearance -- punted last week when it came to charging Hernandez.

Vance and Hernandez's defense counsel agreed to postpone Hernandez's next court appearance until October, pending the results of his psychiatric evaluation.

This is another indication of the disconnect between Vance and Kelly, who at that news conference suggested that the Patz case was solved when Hernandez confessed to murdering 6-year-old Etan 33 years ago.

Hernandez, however, has a history of psychiatric problems, which means that Vance will need some kind of corroborative evidence to convict him.

That fact apparently escaped Kelly, who said of Hernandez's confession and arrest: "We can only hope that these developments bring some measure of peace to the family."

Vance's caution regarding Hernandez marks a sea change from his speed in indicting three "lone-wolf" terrorist suspects arrested by the NYPD after the FBI deemed the cases against them weak.

At least two of the three are said to have mental issues, which may have been a reason that the FBI demurred.

Vance's caution with Hernandez is also a departure from his quick charging of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former International Monetary Fund chief and prospective candidate for president of France, after the NYPD pulled him off a Paris-bound plane, following his encounter with a maid in the Sofitel Hotel.

Vance charged Strauss-Kahn with sexual abuse and attempted rape, only to drop the charges after doubts arose about the maid's credibility.

Say what you will about Vance's difficult first-term, he appears to have learned a lesson, one that other officials in New York City are learning: if you follow Ray Kelly, you do so at your peril.