Pioneer Departs Leaving a Record 'Shaded in Gray'

, New York Law Journal

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Charles J. Hynes
Brooklyn District Attorney Charles J. Hynes during an interview in September.

Charles Hynes, an aggressive crime fighter who has been praised for his innovative community initiatives, leaves office on Dec. 31 after having been repudiated by voters who had chosen him six times as Brooklyn's top prosecutor.

The district attorney, who insists that he "made Brooklyn safer," will leave behind a legacy that has been muddied by reports of prosecutorial misconduct and wrongful convictions on his watch.

Hynes "is nothing short of a pioneer," said Richard Aborn, president of the Citizens Crime Commission of New York City, saying that Hynes "was prescient in understanding that for the criminal justice system to be effective, it had to be more than just arrest, prosecute and incarcerate."

As for a 73 percent reduction in the borough's crime rate from 1990 to 2012, it was "impossible" to know, how much of the drop was due to Hynes, said Aborn, but he "absolutely gets part of the credit."

Hynes' legacy is a "complicated picture," said Steven Banks, attorney-in-chief of the Legal Aid Society, whose organization represents 60,000 Brooklyn defendants yearly.

Banks credits Hynes for the district attorney's support for alternatives to incarceration and says his discovery policies are the best of any prosecutor in the city.

But Legal Aid also has 20 cases under review for their reliance on a now-retired detective, whose police work has come under question.

"At the end of a very long tenure, what emerges is a picture that's neither black nor white," Banks said. "But it is instead a number of shades of gray."

Hynes, 78, lost primary and general election contests he characterized as a referendum on his record to Kenneth Thompson, a former federal prosecutor and founding partner of Thompson Wigdor.

In his concession speech, Hynes said he had no interest in retiring, but he has announced no future plans. He declined numerous Law Journal requests to be interviewed for this story.

'A Hard-Working Lawyer'

Hynes, 78, was born and raised in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn. He was attracted to the law in high school and went on to receive his undergraduate and law degree from St. John's University, in 1957 and 1961, respectively.

He joined Legal Aid in 1963 and the Brooklyn District Attorney's Office, then led by Eugene Gold, in 1969. He quickly rose through the ranks, becoming the rackets bureau chief in 1971 and then first assistant district attorney in 1973.

"He was always a straight guy, a very serious guy. Just a hard-working lawyer," recalled longtime Brooklyn defense attorney Albert Brackley.

Governor Hugh Carey and Attorney General Louis Lefkowitz tapped Hynes in 1975 as special prosecutor to probe the mismanagement of state nursing homes. Using teams of investigators, auditors and prosecutors, Hynes' outfit secured almost 80 indictments by the end of 1976 alone.

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