'Joe Hynes has to live in the real world and he has to live in the world that they're in'

By Azi Paybarah (Capital NY)
May. 11, 2012

Brooklyn D.A. Charles (Joe) Hynes doesn't actually dispute the main point of the 2,580-word story in The New York Times, that his office treats sex abuse cases from the ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities in Borough Park and Wiliamsburg differently than ones in the rest of the borough.

The ultra-Orthodox community, Hynes' office told the Times, is "very tight-knit and insular," and publicizing the identifies of those convicted of the crimes--which is standard practice by the city's other four district attorneys--would make the job of securing prosecutions "extremely difficult, if not impossible."

The other way to look at it is that Hynes is tailoring the criminal-justice system to cater to a politically powerful community, with dangerous consequences.

Former mayor Ed Koch told me he thought Hynes "made a terrible error here."

"This community does not deserve to have any preferential treatment" and "he should treat them exactly as he would anyone else," he said.

Koch, who is Jewish, said Hynes should prosecute the rabbis who interfered with victims reporting accusations of abuse.

"We're all equal under the law and they have to subscribe to the law without getting preferential treatment," Koch said. "It's just dead wrong. And there's no explanation to make it right in any way."

Michael Fragin, an Orthodox Jew and Republican political operative, said amending legal strategies to accommodate religious leaders puts people in jeopardy.

"I think that's inappropriate," he said of Hynes' reported strategy. "I think we should expect one standard when it comes to legal issues. If someone commits a crime against me, I don't want them held to a lesser standard. And as a parent of six, I want my kids to be safe. Safety, for any parent, is the most important thing."

Michael Lesher, an Orthodox Jewish attorney who represents abuse victims, says that not publicizing the names of the Orthodox Jews accused and convicted of sex crimes has "done much more to obscure crimes in the Orthodox community than to fight them," as he wrote last month.

Lew Fidler, a Democratic councilman from Brooklyn who, years ago, ran two of Hynes' political campaigns, defended the D.A.'s response to the times.

"It makes sense to me," Fidler said. "One size does not fit all. It makes sense to me intuitively that sometimes the full frontal assault is not what gets you the most [results]."

He said these communities are heavily controlled by rabbis whose dictates carry more weight than police, school and elected officials.

Fidler said Lesher, in calling for the names of sexual abusers to be made public, doesn't appreciate the dynamics of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community.

"I wish Lesser was right that in any community, people would never sweep something like this, hush hush, under the rug," Fidler told me. "And obviously there's a big push-pull in the Orthodox community on this that I don't see eye-to-eye with. But I think Joe Hynes has to live in the real world and he has to live in the world that they're in."

Fidler knows firsthand how influential rabbis in this area can be.

He was heavily favored to win a special election for a State Senate seat covering Borough Park, but found himself repeatedly attacked for, among other things, once having described himself as a "bacon-and-eggs kind of Jew."

It wound up going to a recount. Fidler, a popular Democrat, leads his little-known Republican opponent with just 87 votes, with an additional 119 paper ballots to be counted on Monday.