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In 2011, The Forward, an influential Jewish newspaper based in Brooklyn, said Hynes misled the public about the number of Orthodox Jewish sex offenders his office has prosecuted - itself a response to the newspaper’s earlier complaints that Hynes allowed rabbis to handle criminal accusations within their secretive rabbinical courts.
Hynes, who denied shielding abusers, launched a program in 2009 to require sex abuse victims to report crimes directly to the district attorney rather than to community leaders. That has led to 112 arrests, a spokesman for Hynes has said.
“We always knew there was a problem,” Hynes said of Orthodox Jewish reluctance to report crimes to authorities. “We just couldn’t break through.”
Hynes has since prosecuted several high-profile sex abuse cases, including one against ultra-Orthodox counselor Nechemya Weberman, which bitterly divided supporters of Weberman’s young accuser against those convinced the counselor was set up.
Hynes said he took similar steps a decade ago to ensure sex abuse allegations against Catholic priests were reported directly to him, not church officials.
“We are now getting more and more information sent to us from religious leaders,” Hynes said. “That’s a breakthrough.”
For years, Hynes has advocated social services as a component of law enforcement, creating the nation’s first domestic violence unit and one of the first drug treatment alternative programs that keep users out of jail.
Hynes’s social programs have been “validated many, many times over,” said Onondaga County District Attorney Bill Fitzpatrick. “But back in 1990 and 1991, Joe put his reputation on the line. It was risky.”
In veiled references to his age, his rivals say Hynes has been in office too long and has grown complacent. Hynes smiled as he boasted he was in better shape at 77 than he was in his 50s, thanks to a daily workout and a diet inspired by Suzanne Somers.
“I’m going to serve as long as I can,” he said. “Retirement is not an option for me.”