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New York Daily News: 10/17/00: Pol wanna-be gains appeal in voting bust

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Posted by GET NY on 16:57:54 12/24/04

Pol wanna-be gains appeal in voting bust

John Kennedy O'Hara was convicted of felony in giving false address on voter registration, but court will hear appeal.

New York Daily News
10/17/00

By BOB LIFF
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER

The worst that happens to most gadflies who challenge Brooklyn's Democratic organization is that party-linked judges throw them off the ballot.

John Kennedy O'Hara, 38, a five-time losing candidate in Sunset Park, became a felon after being convicted on seven criminal charges in connection with registering to vote from a former girlfriend's house on 47th St. He lives on 61st St.

The state's highest court has agreed to hear his appeal.

O'Hara was sentenced to five years' probation, ordered to pay $20,000 in fines, required to perform 1,500 hours of community service, stripped of his right to vote and disbarred as a lawyer.

"I'm the first one to be convicted as a criminal for voting since Susan B. Anthony," Kennedy said yesterday, referring to the 19th century suffragette convicted for bucking laws that limited voting to men.

It took Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes three trials to convict O'Hara. The first resulted in a conviction that was overturned by the Appellate Division. The second ended in a hung jury.

The third trial ended with a second conviction last year, which was upheld by the Appellate Division. O'Hara rebuffed moves that would have allowed prosecutors to simply drop the third trial, in part because that would have made it more difficult for O'Hara to win reinstatement as a lawyer.

O'Hara blames his troubles on the party-backed district attorney he calls "Breezy Point Joe," a reference to a home Hynes owns in the oceanfront Queens neighborhood just over the Marine Park Bridge.

Hynes calls a Brooklyn apartment his permanent residence.

But O'Hara, who appeared yesterday before Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Abraham Gerges, may have a last lifeline.

The Court of Appeals, the state's highest court, has agreed to hear his appeal.

No one in politics can remember another criminal prosecution over using a false address to vote. Similar charges have failed to derail many Democratic organization loyalists, such as a Bronx councilwoman who said she lived in her district even though her children were enrolled in Rockland County schools.

John O'Mara, the Hynes assistant who prosecuted O'Hara, conceded that the courts have been flexible in assessing residency, even allowing candidates to choose among multiple addresses to run for office.

"He went so far beyond the bounds of what the law allowed that made this a clear case for us," he said of O'Hara.

As for O'Hara's likening his case to Anthony's, O'Mara said, "That was a gender case. No one is questioning John O'Hara's gender."

O'Hara ran five times against partybacked candidates - three times for the Assembly and twice for the City Council.

O'Hara said the key to his case is in the timing. He was arrested in October 1996 and charged with falsifying his registration four years earlier, when he was running for the Legislature.

The arrest came a day before he was scheduled to meet with U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg to press an attempt to force a new Democratic primary for Brooklyn's patronagerich Surrogate Court judgeship.

A federal judge, citing late-arriving voting machines in Sunset Park, had ordered a new primary in the surrogate race. That decision later was overturned by a federal appellate panel.

It was that decision that O'Hara, a critic of the Democratic organization, planned to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

He said he was warned that he was angering powerful forces in trying to force a new election for surrogate.

"I said, `What are they going to do? Lock me up?'" he recalled yesterday.

It turned out, he said, that the answer was yes.



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