By Ray Rivera and Sharon Otterman (New York Times)
May 18, 2012
The Brooklyn district attorney, Charles J. Hynes, is setting up a panel of prosecutors and investigators to crack down on witness intimidation in child sexual abuse cases in the borough's ultra-Orthodox Jewish community.
Speaking on NY1 on Thursday night, Mr. Hynes said he was asking the panel to "come up with some alternatives to break down this wall of intimidation."
He criticized elements in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community over their treatment of sexual abuse victims.
"The level of intimidation is not found nearly as much in organized crime," he said. "It's extraordinary just how relentless these people can be."
"There is no concern for the victim in parts of these communities," he added. "Everything is for the abuser, and that's the horrible thing that we have to deal with."
It was a shift in tone for Mr. Hynes, who in the past has praised ultra-Orthodox Jewish leaders for helping to fight crime in their neighborhoods.
His decision to create the panel comes after an article last week in The New York Times described how ultra-Orthodox Jews who come forward with allegations of abuse often face intense pressure from neighbors and rabbinical authorities to drop their cases. A second article in The Times examined Mr. Hynes's relationships with influential ultra-Orthodox leaders and his record of treating cases in their communities differently. He has a policy of not publicizing the names of ultra-Orthodox Jewish defendants who are accused of sexual abuse.
Since then, Mr. Hynes has publicly defended his record, including writing an op-ed article in The Daily News.
He engaged in an e-mail exchange this week with former Mayor Edward I. Koch, who had questioned Mr. Hynes's record in a blog post in The Huffington Post. It was in that exchange that Mr. Koch said: "Wouldn't it make sense to convene a law-enforcement expert committee to think about an approach to this problem? It is an outrage that cannot be permitted to continue."
In his NY1 interview, Mr. Hynes acknowledged that he was responding to Mr. Koch's suggestion by setting up the task force.
Mr. Koch praised Mr. Hynes for taking the step, calling it "long overdue."
"I don't know if it will work, but it has a possibility," Mr. Koch said in an interview. "You cannot allow people to engage in what is really obstruction of justice, and prevent justice from taking place to protect these children."
Mr. Koch said he hoped that Mr. Hynes would include outside experts on the panel.
Jerry Schmetterer, a spokesman for Mr. Hynes, said the district attorney was expected to serve as chairman of the panel, which would include the heads of his sex-crimes and rackets divisions, and his chief investigator.
Mr. Schmetterer said that a ranking official of the New York Police Department would also attend meetings, and that other law-enforcement advisers might be invited later.
In the NY1 interview, Mr. Hynes said that he had tried to pursue people who intimidate victims or witnesses, but that ultra-Orthodox Jewish victims had refused to wear concealed recording devices to gather evidence, fearing their cooperation would lead to more intimidation.
"One of these days, I'm going to get lucky," he said. "It took me a long time to put away three Supreme Court judges, but I never gave up. You just have to be as relentless as they are."