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New York Post: 03/10/03: A Stench Grows In Brooklyn

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Posted by GET NY on 15:08:45 12/24/04

A Stench Grows In Brooklyn

New York Post
March 10, 2003

Carla T. Main

THERE'S an old joke about a lady who goes into a butcher shop to buy a chicken. She lifts up a chicken and starts sniffing it. She sniffs under one wing, then the other, and on and on till she has sniffed up and down the entire bird. Finally, the butcher blurts out: "Lady, could you pass that test?"

The truth is, few,of us could. And that is exactly the deep wisdom understood by corrupt political machines that use the judicial system and the law - meant to protect ordinary citizens - as a weapon to defeat those who dare to challenge them. It is also the sad story of John K. O'Hara.

O'Hara, a lawyer and political gadfly from Brooklyn, loved nothing more than helping non-machine candidates get on the primary ballots in Brooklyn elections. In Kings County, that's apparently some sort of sin against nature.

He also had the temerity to spearhead a lawsuit alleging election fraud in Brooklyn. This made the Brooklyn political machine hopping mad, so they started sniffing. And lo and behold, they found he had voted from an address that was not his permanent residence (although he did stay and receive mail there).

Enter the Office of the District Attorney of King's County, happy to do the bidding of the machine that controls Brooklyn politics. It dusted off an archaic statute last used to prosecute Susan B. Anthony for voting in 1876.

Apparently insufficiently occupied by the murders, rapes and grand larcenies that occur with alarming frequency in the borough of nearly 2.5 million, the DA's office put the chief of its homicide division on the case. He prosecuted O'Hara and won: The gadfly was convicted, disgraced, disbarred, fined and sentenced to community service.

Needless to say, he has been conveniently out of the machine's way ever since.

On Friday the law dealt yet another legal blow to John O'Hara in the federal district court in Brooklyn. He had turned to the federal court as a last resort on a petition for habeas corpus, hoping for justice from the federal system after being the target of one of the most outrageous instances of
selective prosecution New York has seen in a very long time.

Judge John Gleeson, who had evidently studied the record quite carefully and given much time to the matter, denied the application, finding no federal law grounds to overturn the conviction. Was he wildly off base? No, because here, as they like to say in Brooklyn, is the beauty part: It was a perfect prosecution.

As O'Hara himself has often said, he was guilty as charged (though he has challenged the constitutionality of the jury charges and his conviction). The real question is: Why were the scarce resources of the District Attorney's office devoted to trying (through three trials and numerous appeals) an otherwise upstanding citizen on a Class E felony - that's one step above a misdemeanor - using a law that has languished in the dustbin of legal history for more than a century?

Clearly, this was a stroke of pure machine-politics genius. In a democracy, no act has greater symbolic power than voting. What better bolt of lightning to hurl as a warning to those who would dare to buck the machine?

Well, congratulations to DA Charles Hynes and his crew. His selective prosecution of John K. O'Hara has now been vindicated in federal court. But the citizens of New York have no reason to celebrate this example of the mighty using the judicial system to smash the meek.

To the contrary, it is high time for Mayor Bloomberg to convene a commission to investigate the way elections are run in Kings County, and to explore the reasons a lawabiding citizen was singled out for prosecution on an obscure charge after he stood up to powerful men.

Go ahead, Mr. Mayor. Lift up a chicken wing: You'll find that something stinks to high heaven in Brooklyn.

- - -

Carla T. Main edits the opinion page of The National Law Journal.

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