Charles Hynes, ACORN Scandal DA, Has ACORN Ties?

charles-joe-hynesWhen I first saw Alex Knapp’s report this morning that Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes had cleared ACORN of wrongdoing in the infamous prostitution sting operation by James O’Keefe and Hannah Giles, my natural instinct was to look into his background to see what his political motivation might be.   A quick glance at his Wikipedia entry led me to conclude that he was a typical machine pol and therefore had a conflict of interest.

But Alex correctly pointed out that there’s no evidence whatsoever that Hynes has ever acted inappropriately.  Indeed, he’s successfully prosecuted Democratic politicians and even showed exemplary integrity in recusing himself from a case involving a former political opponent.

Now, via Glenn Reynolds, I see that Andrew Marcus has found evidence of a conflict:

The Brooklyn DA is a member of the ACORN/Working Families Party. That means he signed their pledge, and worked for their endorsement.

The WFP describes itself as, “New York’s liveliest and most progressive political party. Formed by a grassroots coalition of community organizations, neighborhood activists, and labor unions, we came together build a society that works for all of us, not just the wealthy and well-connected.”  While it makes no mention of ACORN on its site, its Wikipedia entry says, “was first organized in 1998 by a coalition of labor unions, ACORN and other community organizations, members of the now-inactive national New Party, and a variety of public interest groups such as Citizen Action of New York.”  Further, ACORN executive director Bertha Lewis is a co-chair.

That’s pretty thin gruel for calling Hynes “the best DA money can buy.”  New York City is a political oddity in the United States, with a lot of small political parties, like WFP, and local politicians working to get on multiple party lists.  And Hynes has been re-elected three times, so the idea that he’s somehow especially beholden to ACORN is hard to argue.

It is, however, confirmation of the bias that led me to question Hynes’ motives:   That electing law enforcement officials (prosecutors, sheriffs, etc.) especially on party lines, naturally brings suspicion of conflict of interest regardless of whether it really exists.   Hynes has no choice but to investigate cases like this that are brought before him and, to the extent that there’s a political component to the case — as there is here — there’s always going to be an appearance of conflict.

Update (Alex Knapp): I agree that this appears to be a appearance of conflict of interest, however, there’s no evidence that there’s any actual conflict of interest. As far as I can tell, Hynes’ career shows no evidence of corruption, and he has certainly been willing to prosecute Democrats (successfully).

Frankly, I think that our political culture puts far too much stock into the “appearance” of impropriety instead of focusing on actual impropriety. You know, someone should write a book about that.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. […] UPDATE (James Joyner):  See my follow-up, “Charles Hynes, ACORN Scandal DA, Has ACORN Ties?“ […]

  2. PD Shaw says:

    Hynes has no choice but to investigate cases like this that are brought before him and, . . . there’s always going to be an appearance of conflict

    Yes, but Hynes probably had numerous choices, such as (1) recusing himself like Jim Letten did in the Landrieu wire-tapping case, (2) referring the matter to an appellate prosecutor, or (3) sending the file to the U.S. attorney’s office if there is also a potential federal crime. Also, if there is an issue that hinges on credibility determinations, convene a grand jury to make the decision.

  3. PD Shaw says:

    Clicking through the links, I can see where Hynes was endorsed by the Working Party, but I don’t see where he was “a member.” I also don’t see where Hynes actually “worked” for the endorsement; it’s implied from the fact that a number of candidates apparently did work for an endorsement. Hynes was unopposed for reelection in 2009.

    Maybe there are some local facts I’m not aware of, but I’m not sure what the appearance of impropriety might be.

  4. Herb says:

    However, there’s no evidence that there’s any actual conflict of interest.

    To quote Joe Cabot, “Who needs proof when you’ve got instinct?”

    I’m of the mind that Acorn isn’t as nefarious as its most hardened critics say. Sure, they may be engaging in various liberal shenanigans, but they’re not the mafia. Buying off DAs might be a little out of their reach, conflict of interest or no.

  5. Drew says:

    One of the great theme lines in the movie “Training Day” was Denzel Washington’s “its not what you know, its what you can prove.”

    You probably can’t prove squat with this DA. But…

    Many people know what I do for a living – private equity – and so I sit on Boards and have other fiduciary duties etc. Unless the legal world is light years apart from the financial world, this is a no brainer from my perspective. He should have recused himself. Democrat vs Republican is (conveniently) a too high level rationalization. He has an association with ACORN, period, full stop.

    I’m a bit taken aback that anyone would spend more than a moment coming to that conclusion.

  6. Drew says:

    BTW – shouldn’t the phrase be cleared of any legal wrongdoing, not just wrongdoing??

    I saw with my own eyes the coaching that went on. Tax evasion, pimping, child sex trade etc…. That’s not wrongdoing?

  7. Dave Schuler says:

    Alex, I think there is an issue of terminology here. From the standpoint of the American Bar Association it would appear to me that, unless he has disclosed his relationship, tenuous as it might be, with ACORN and received a written release from the city to act on on its behalf in matters involving ACORN, that Mr. Hynes is acting improperly. It may not be actionable but it’s skating on the edge of being unethical.

  8. Steve Plunk says:

    In any profession or endeavor where the public trust is a necessary component the appearance of conflict is as bad as an actual conflict since it damages that trust. Saying it’s no big deal ignores the role of trust in society and undermines many of our institutions.

  9. PD Shaw says:

    Perhaps someone familiar with NY elections could help me out here. The returns from his last election show the following totals:

    CHARLES J HYNES (DEMOCRATIC) 182,597
    CHARLES J HYNES (REPUBLICAN) 43,324
    CHARLES J HYNES (CONSERVATIVE) 7,700
    CHARLES J HYNES (WORKING FAMILIES) 16,064

    Does that means Hynes was endorsed by the Conservative Party and appeared on their ballots?

  10. PD Shaw says:

    This is closer to an ethical issue involving Hynes:

    In a scathing criticism of the longtime DA, a state judicial committee said last week that O’Hara, the only man ever convicted in New York for voting in the wrong election district, was the victim of an unjustified, politically motivated prosecution because of his support for Hynes opponents a decade ago.

    “The committee has grave doubts that Mr. O’Hara did anything that justified his criminal prosecution,” said the final report by the 25-member Committee on Character and Fitness, whose finding was unanimously approved by the state Supreme Court’s Appellate Division, which reinstated O’Hara as a lawyer on Oct. 6.

    “Mr. O’Hara, accurately it appears, claims that the [Hynes’s political] machine went gunning for him and pounced on his change of residency calling it election fraud.”

  11. Raoul says:

    Democratic, Republican, Conservative, Working Families- it would appear that the good gentleman would need to quit as soon as getting elected /s/

  12. Alex Knapp says:

    Going back to the original sources, it appears that Hynes did not work on the case at all. Other lawyers in the D.A.’s office did.

  13. nice strategy says:

    I saw with my own eyes the coaching that went on.

    No, you didn’t. You saw a heavily edited recording.

    Going back to the original sources, it appears that Hynes did not work on the case at all. Other lawyers in the D.A.’s office did.

    Thank you for attempting to bring reality to this inane series of posts by Mr. Joyner, who ought to be embarrassed.

    This whole episode is looking more and more like finding what one is looking for. US Attorneys who didn’t go along with pushing politicized cases were doing the right thing. Same here. Prosecuting ACORN would have been a poor use of resources.

    Passing a bill of attainder because of the apparent poor judgment by a local employee was another moment of stupid in a long litany of ridiculousness by this Congress.

  14. steve says:

    “I saw with my own eyes the coaching that went on. Tax evasion, pimping, child sex trade etc…. That’s not wrongdoing?”

    You saw the unedited version? I saw with my own eyes giant blue people flying on dragons on a screen somewhere. I am not sure if it was real or good editing.

    Steve

  15. anjin-san says:

    I saw with my own eyes the coaching that went on.

    No, you didn’t. You saw a heavily edited recording.

    And you would think a guy as accomplished as Drew never seems to tire of telling us that he is would know the difference…

  16. Drew says:

    That’s a really, really – pathetically – stupid and disgusting comment, anjin. Either I saw and heard what I saw, or I didn’t. Are you telling me my eyes and ears deceived me??

    Are you saying that because child sex trade commentary was a subset of the full conversation by these people, what was talked about is acceptable?? Is that your position?

    What a disgusting pig you must be. Do you chase and diddle little boys, anjin?

    Good God.

  17. Davebo says:

    So sad.

    Yet another reasonable Republican falls into the waste bin of intellectual dishonesty.

    And no James, I’m not talking about Drew.

    I’m now down to roughly six conservative bloggers I can be bothered to read.

    When we are down to only Daniel Larison I’d say the party is over.

    I won’t bother recounting the facts here as they’ve already been covered.

    On a side note, PD Shaw, could you start a blog to pick up the slack a bit? The GOP needs people like you.

    You’d probably never stand a chance of getting elected to public office in this environment, but you could definitely make a difference.

    So long James. Enjoy the tea.

  18. Drew says:

    Good riddance.

    No tears.

  19. Davebo says:

    Good riddance.

    No tears.

    Three minutes after the comment.

    No life?

  20. James Joyner says:

    Yet another reasonable Republican falls into the waste bin of intellectual dishonesty.

    I don’t understand your beef here. The substance of the post was:

    1. My initial reaction was to be suspicious of the investigation, since it was headed up by a politician. But the guy’s record seems above reproach.

    2. A widely-circulated charge is going around that this guy is an ACORN tool. But a cursory examination shows that to be dubious.

    3. Generally speaking, the reason these suspicions arise is because of partisan election of DAs and other law enforcement officials. Maybe the practice is a bad idea.

    To which Alex appends:

    4. We should focus on actual impropriety rather than the mere appearance of impropriety.

    I agree with that but I would prefer a system where neither were at issue.

  21. anjin-san says:

    What a disgusting pig you must be. Do you chase and diddle little boys,

    Projecting again junior? That topic seems to be much on your mind. I guess you just don’t have enough sophistication to know that a tape can be edited by a partisan hack. Why don’t you tell us one more time how important and rich you are?

  22. UlyssesUnbound says:

    That’s a really, really – pathetically – stupid and disgusting comment, anjin.

    It really was. One would have to work quite hard to come up with a comment that was stupider and more disgusting. It would take someone with an absolutely decrepit mind and no moral decency to post something worse than that.

    What a disgusting pig you must be. Do you chase and diddle little boys, anjin?

    Well, I see we have a winner. Well played.

  23. […]  Charles Hynes, ACORN Scandal DA, Has ACORN Ties? […]

  24. Drew says:

    anjin –

    OK, I’m rich. Its a fact, what can I say? Important? I can’t imagine I’m important, I’ve never assumed or said such, and I can’t imagine why you would suppose I am, or feel the need to bring the issue up……unless you are jealous?

    Your comment that someone doesn’t know that a tape can be edited is just embarrassingly simple minded and idiotic. I’m not surprised. But that’s not the question. The question is: what’s on the tape for everyone to see? And what is there is despicable.

    If the balance of the tapes place the ACORN workers as angels, please inform us. Please do. But what’s been made public is disgusting. Defend it if you like.

    UlyssesUnbound –

    Weak, and dumb. You continue to be unimpressive.

  25. UlyssesUnbound says:

    Unimpressive you say? Well sir, I’ll have you know that I just so happen to make lots of money, and sit on many important boards.

    Judging by your previous posts, I’ll count you as duly impressed.

  26. anjin-san says:

    I can’t imagine I’m important, I’ve never assumed or said such,

    Guess you just don’t read your own posts carefully. But nice job trying to walk your own remarks back.

    Is there a little, or perhaps a lot of slime at Acorn? Its very possible. The issues is more that you are so blatantly, transparently partisan. I don’t think you really give a crap what acorn is up to, you just want a gotcha to use against Obama/Democrats. Have you seen the unedited tape? If not, you should at least consider that you have been successfully manipulated by an attention seeking kid.

    As for your leap that me thinking that you are kind of a blow hard make me a potential pedophile, well, if you want to look at some pathetic posts, review your own material. It is a rich vein to mine.

  27. anjin-san says:

    unless you are jealous?

    I associate with wealthy people daily, both in my personal & professional life. Some of them are famous as well. As far as I know, none of them feel the need to tell strangers on blogs how rich they are every couple of days.

    If you took Cary Grant and dressed him like a bum, he would still be Cary Grant. But a bum in a tuxedo, and he is just a well-dressed bum.