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Caribbean Life: 06/22/04: Brooklyn DA faces accusations of politically-motivated persecutions

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Posted by GET NY on 11:22:32 12/25/04

Brooklyn DA faces accusations of politically-motivated persecutions

Caribbean Life
Brooklyn/Staten Island Edition

06/22/04

By Mithout Gomez

Despite bitter denials coming out of his office, Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes continues to be dogged by serious charges that he improperly used his office to persecute likely political rivals.

These persistently damning charges have come from three former political opponents, who were joined by more than a dozen banner-waving supporters at a rally near the steps of Borough Hall Thurs., Jun. 17, to press their complaint that the DA has inappropriately used the power of his office to retaliate against them.

"You run on the merit, you talk about the issues and what you could have done against me, but don't retaliate against me to try to disbar me," said Sandra E. Roper, a civil rights attorney and community activist who ran for Brooklyn D.A. in 2001, garnering an astounding 36 percent of the Democratic Primary vote.

One month later, however, Roper, who hails from the Caribbean island of Grenada, was indicted by the DA's office on fraud charges. She faces 12 years in prison.

But in court papers, her lawyer continually maintained that her prosecution was motivated by "malevolent intent" and that the court's Appellate Division's Grievance Committee "had already dismissed it on the merits."

"The fight for justice and not politics in Brooklyn will continue, whether with me or others who are here and I'm sure they're willing to stand up," Roper said.

Roper believes any potential political challenge to Hynes - who faces a crowded field of candidates for next year's election - brings with it the possibility of political persecution, as evidenced through his handling of Judge John Phillips' case.

"He has raised a lot of fears in this city and in this community," she said.

As prime example, Roper cited Hynes' recent high-profile humiliation of Kings County Democratic Party Chairman Clarence Norman, as evidence of what she calls Hynes' continued "political witch hunt" against highprofile community leaders. "Many people agree that his handling of Mr. Norman's case was very heavy-handed," said Roper.

Also at the rally were several children, who carried hand-painted signs castigating the Brooklyn D.A. for alleged prosecutorial misconduct. Among the many banners unfurled were some with direct references to what they say is his office's reported practice of jailing political opponents.
One such sign read: "Justice, Not Politics," while another continued: "Bring Judge Phillips Home Now."

Near a table fuil of leaflets and flyers critical of Hynes stood a woman who raised her head as she handed anti-Hynes literature to passers-by.

Later, as the press conference wound down, some of the participants renewed calls for the City Council's Oversight Committee to hold hearings into the allegations, saying the surprisingly high number of community complaints against the D.A.'s office warrant such hearings.

"This is a serious threat to democracy," said John O'Hara, a former lawyer who became the second person prosecuted for "illegal voting" in the state since 1876.

O'Hara, who had worked on Roper's 2001 campaign against Hynes, was fined $20,000 and is currently doing 1,500 hours of community service, following three separate prosecutions spearheaded by Hynes' office.

He maintained the prosecution was politically motivated. "When a prosecutor breaks the law, there's no law," O'Hara said, adding that "nobody prosecutes the prosecutor. "It's a very scary situation," he cautioned.

Hynes is still reeling from sharp community criticism stemming from his handling of Assemblyman Clarence Norman's investigation - an exercise that cost millions of taxpayer dollars, but yielded only a mere night in jail for Mr. Norman.

But if anything, critics say, it is what they see as the Brooklyn D ff.'s questionable handling of the case of Mr. John L. Phillips, a former civil court judge, that has raised eyebrows and ultimately led to community outrage.

After serving 13 years as a civil court judge, Judge Phillips declared his intentions to enter the 2001 race for Brooklyn District Attorney against D.A. Joe Hynes.

But as the campaign got underway, all hell broke loose, as Hynes' office suddenly crafted a plan to "protect" Judge Phillips, who they believe was about the become the victim of some "nefarious crime," according to the former judge's supporters.

Hynes' assistant D.A., Steven Kramer, reportedly led the raid on Judge Phillips'
home, seizing his financial records.

Days later, one of Mr. Hynes' best friends and former chief of staff, Harvey Greenberg, was put in charge of Judge Phillips' multi-million-dollar real-estate empire as "temporary guardian," according to an investigation.

Calls for a broader probe have since abound, which will seek to determine whether the guardian appointed to handle Judge Phillips' many buildings then resold three of the former judge's properties at below the market price.

"It is one thing to persecute people, but when you do it in the name of `the people', it's an insult to all of us," said Scott, who'd rather use his last name. "Where's the democracy everyone's talking about."

Mr. Phillips is now in state court trying to recover what remains of his estates.
"He has to know about what happened to the judge Phillips' properties," 0' Hara said of Hynes. "He's in charge."

Calls to the DA.'s office seeking comment were not returned.



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