Brooklyn’s embattled district attorney Charles Hynes sharply criticized an ultra-Orthodox umbrella group and launched a fierce defense of his record in prosecuting child sex abuse during a landmark interview with the Forward.
Sitting in the 14th floor corner office of his downtown Brooklyn headquarters, Hynes said he was in “sharp disagreement” with Agudath Israel of America’s policy that a rabbi “who has experience in the area of abuse and molestation” must be consulted before suspected abusers can be reported to the authorities.
Hynes said the policy is misguided because rabbis “have no experience or expertise in sex abuse.” He said that he had underlined his opposition to rabbis screening allegations during a telephone call with Rabbi David Zwiebel, Agudah’s executive vice president, earlier on the morning of the May 24 interview.
“(Zwiebel) still thinks they have a responsibility to screen,” Hynes said, “I disagree.”
Hynes says he is pushing for a new state law requiring rabbis to report abuse. Lawmakers question his timing.
The veteran prosecutor took the remarkable step of speaking directly to the Jewish community through the Forward after months of mounting criticism over his office’s handling of child sex crimes in the Orthodox community.
Hynes mostly adopted a laid-back, friendly attitude during the hourlong interview, occasionally interrupting the discussion with folksy anecdotes.
The consummate Irish-American politician sought to underline his affinity for the community by peppering the interview with Yiddish phrases and Jewish expressions.
“Apparently only this goy understands,” the best way to prosecute abuse, Hynes remarked wryly.
But the white-haired Hynes seemed weary at the toll the criticism has taken. He also seemed frustrated that his legacy could be permanently tarnished by the issue, especially his stubborn refusal to release the names of almost 100 ultra-Orthodox Jews charged with child sex crimes since 2009.
“I won’t buckle to repeated attacks on my integrity because people are so hellbent on finding every bit of information they can,” Hynes said.
The interview came at perhaps the most tumultuous moment of Hynes four-decade career as a prosecutor. Brooklyn-bred and the product of Roman Catholic schools, he won his name by cracking down on fraud in government medical programs. As a special prosecutor, he famously won convictions in the explosive case of several white men who chased a black man to his death in the Howard Beach neighborhood in 1986.