By Stephanie Clifford and William K. Rashbaum (New York Times)
June 2, 2014
A New York City Department of Investigation inquiry has implicated Charles J. Hynes, the former Brooklyn district attorney, in the improper use of money seized from drug dealers and other criminal defendants to pay a political consultant more than $200,000 for his work on Mr. Hynes’s unsuccessful re-election campaign last year.
The report, which has been referred to the state attorney general and several other agencies, concluded that Mr. Hynes could face larceny charges for the misuse of public funds.
The investigation also found that a widely respected jurist, Barry Kamins, the administrative judge for New York City’s criminal courts, violated the judicial code of ethics by advising Mr. Hynes on his campaign, offering legal advice and discussing matters that the district attorney’s office was actively prosecuting.
Justice Kamins has been relieved of all administrative duties on Monday, a state courts spokesman said.
The 27-page report, which was obtained by The New York Times, found that Mr. Hynes potentially violated the City Charter and conflict of interest board rules; violations of the City Charter can be charged as misdemeanors. Mr. Hynes’s conduct may have also violated the state penal code section on official misconduct. And payments from the office to the consultant, Mortimer Matz, may have violated the larceny provisions in the penal code. Under the code, any larceny of more than $1,000 is a felony.
In 2012 and 2013, Mr. Matz’s firm was paid $219,824 for “public relations and communications services rendered.” Investigators said that during that period, Mr. Matz “provided few if any actual public relations and communications services to the office,” adding that the consultant served “primarily if not exclusively as a political consultant to Hynes personally.”
The investigation found that in 2013, the office typically issued two or three checks each month to Mr. Matz’s firm from state asset-forfeiture funds; from 2003 through 2013, investigators said, the district attorney’s office paid the firm about $1.1 million from those funds. State law requires that asset-forfeiture funds be used only for law enforcement purposes.
The inquiry, which began in November, included the review of about 6,000 emails sent to or from Mr. Hynes’s official email address for the 18-month period before the 2013 general election.
Mr. Hynes’s emails paint a picture of a man who, after two dozen years in office, used staff members, colleagues and whatever resources he could tap to help shape what was an ultimately unsuccessful campaign against Kenneth P. Thompson.
In one example, Mr. Hynes asked Justice Kamins for suggestions on how to attack Mr. Thompson on his qualifications.
“Lack of experience in supervising a large number of attorneys,” the justice replied. “Until he puts forth a plan or set of goals, one must assume that he is not qualified to run the office.”
In another exchange, Justice Kamins told Mr. Hynes that he believed that the structure of a planned debate between Mr. Hynes and Mr. Thompson would favor Mr. Hynes. The justice wrote in the email that the debate would “focus on the nitty-gritty of what the D.A. does each day to run the office — of course Thompson has no clue and that will come out.” The debate, he continued, “may focus on budget issues as well. Will try to get more info.”
The report by the Department of Investigation, the city agency responsible for investigating corruption, fraud waste and abuse, is yet another recent blemish on Mr. Hynes’s long career as a prosecutor in Brooklyn, a tenure that has become clouded by questions about wrongful murder convictions. Efforts to reach Mr. Hynes were unsuccessful.
Justice Kamins’s lawyer, Paul L. Shectman, called his client one of the city’s finest public servants.
“Joe Hynes and Judge Kamins have been good friends for 40 years and have talked politics for much of that time,” he said. “Anyone who knows Barry knows that he would not abuse his judicial position.”
Justice Kamins has long been known as a straight-arrow player, and he had overseen New York criminal courts before being given the additional role of the head of policy and planning for New York State’s courts this year.
David Bookstaver, a spokesman for the state’s Office of Court Administration, said that Justice Kamins had been relieved of all of his administrative responsibilities, both as chief of policy and planning and in his oversight of New York City’s criminal courts.
Under New York State’s Constitution, the Commission on Judicial Conduct investigates allegations of judicial wrongdoing and is the only body that can recommend punishment or removal for a State Supreme Court justice. The commission makes its recommendations to the State Court of Appeals; while the commission can publicly admonish a judge, only the Court of Appeals can remove one.
“We are hoping that this matter is resolved as expeditiously as possible,” Mr. Bookstaver said, adding that Justice Kamins went on annual leave on Monday.
The judicial commission’s counsel and administrator, Robert H. Tembeckjian, declined to comment. A spokeswoman for the state attorney general, Eric T. Schneiderman, also declined to comment; the report was referred to Mr. Schneiderman’s office for possible criminal prosecution.
The investigation began after complaints were received from two government entities, the report said. The inquiry continued this year under Mark G. Peters, the new commissioner of the Department of Investigation. Mr. Peters also has a connection to Mr. Hynes; he challenged him in the 2005 election, but lost.
The review of Mr. Hynes’s emails uncovered “several thousand campaign-related emails” leading up to the 2013 election, and the report said several senior staff members “appeared to have assisted Hynes in his re-election campaign,” often corresponding about the campaign during the business day.
Mr. Hynes, the report said, asked staff members to pick campaign stops, plan regular Thursday meetings with various labor, community and religious leaders, and check in on topics like when The Carib News would publish an endorsement of him.
During this time, while Mr. Matz was supposedly acting only as a public-relations consultant to the district attorney’s office, the report cited emails showing Mr. Matz scheduling an NY1 appearance, preparing information for Mr. Hynes to use in his submissions to newspaper editorial boards as they considered endorsements, and assessing what Mr. Thompson had spent on consultants.
Mr. Matz, who is nearly 90 and had long advised Mr. Hynes on public relations, was well known to many reporters who covered his office over the years as a source who could be trusted to provide accurate information on crimes and some issues involving the office. He declined to comment.
The emails also provide insight into Mr. Hynes’s aggressive campaign, in which he described one opponent in the Democratic primary, Abe George, as a “nebish” and another opponent, presumably Mr. Thompson, as “this Turkey,” and rendered the Brooklyn neighborhood Bushwick as “Bushwhack,” in an apparently sincere error.
“Thompson’s campaign sold some trash to a blog called Failed Messiah. I will be asked about it today,” Mr. Hynes wrote to a political consultant from his office email address. “Find out before 10:30 whether Thompson” filed financial-disclosure forms.
As for Justice Kamins, the report found that he had advised Mr. Hynes on his campaign, making suggestions about his public statements, talking to others on Mr. Hynes’s behalf, and providing information on opponents. The justice “engaged in political activity” and “used his office to advance Hynes’ political career,” the report found.
Of Mr. George, the onetime candidate for district attorney, Justice Kamins wrote that “as a trial assistant, George was about average,” according to an email cited in the report.
“It would be good at some point to get his record of trials,” Justice Kamins wrote, “not for negative campaigning but to present an incredibly stark comparison for voters.”
The report said Justice Kamins also “used his apparent connection” to editors of The New York Times and The New York Law Journal “to further Hynes’ political interest.” It said the justice had suggested changes in a letter Mr. Hynes was planning to write to a Times editorial-board member. And it said he told Mr. Hynes about a conversation with a New York Law Journal reporter in which “I suggested he look at the negative literature being sent by Thompson and his mediocre record as an A.U.S.A.”
Justice Kamins also held “discussions regarding pending criminal matters and investigations,” the report said. After an editorial criticizing Mr. Hynes on his record prosecuting sex-abuse cases among ultra-Orthodox Jews, Justice Kamins said, “Is it time to have the news conference that Morty suggested — with victim advocates at your side?” Justice Kamins gave advice on how to respond to questions about Jabbar Collins, a man Mr. Hynes’s office had convicted and whose conviction had been vacated by a federal judge; and about how to respond to a rising number of claims of wrongful convictions under his watch.
The justice delved into providing legal advice, too, as he guided Mr. Hynes on a lawsuit from Mr. George over a reality show at the district attorney’s office, and on whether a New York Post story that Mr. Hynes did not like met libel standards. It did not.