Thursday, July 15, 2010

"Breezy Point Joe" And The Residency Meltdown

Montclair, a leafy New Jersey suburb, boasts a population of 38,000, has 18 public tennis courts, a house on the market for 16 million dollars, and the home to some of Brooklyn D.A. Charles "Joe" Hynes' senior prosecutors.  John O'Mara, Hynes' $137,500 Assistant District Attorney, is one of those Montclarians whose house is tucked away between TV personality Stephen Colbert, Newsweek editor Jonathan Alter, and up until last week, those naughty Russian spies.

You may recall reading about Assistant District Attorney O'Mara, who made his bones prosecuting political dissident John Kennedy O'Hara. No that was not a typo; it was John O'Mara vs John O'Hara, and the issue was residence. However, this was no ordinary case.

The prosecution of John O'Hara became one of the most expensive criminal cases in New York's history. O'Hara, the first person to be convicted for voting since Susan B Anthony, also became the first person in Brooklyn to be tried three times on the same charge. Even Lemrick Nelson, the purported killer of Yankel Rosenbaum, received only two trials.

The trials resembled the tale of Les Miserables with O'Mara playing the role of the obsessive police inspector Javert, and O'Hara as Jean Valjean.

But Jean Valjean did steal a loaf of bread; all O'Hara did was vote.

Then the case took an ironic twist.  The Daily News editorial board reported that A.D.A. O'Mara was violating the New York State residency laws by not residing within the five counties of New York City. In fact, A.D.A. O'Mara had abandoned Brooklyn for the Montclair enclave over 20 years ago.

Throughout all three of O'Hara's trials, O'Mara was a larger than life presence in the courtroom, feigning outrage that these "politicians" would violate our sacred residency laws.

When it was exposed in the press that A.D.A. O'Mara had collected over 3 million dollars of taxpayer money while living outside the jurisdiction, the once fierce prosecutor skulked away, never showing his face on the O'Hara case again. A.D.A. O'Mara now does busy work; as The New York Times has reported that he is now in charge of graffiti prosecutions.

But the meltdown in Hynes office was just beginning.  In December 2004, Harper's Magazine scribe Christopher Ketcham dug deeper into the "People vs. O'Hara" case in an article titled "Meet The New Boss - Man v Machine Politics in Brooklyn".  It turns out that The D.A. himself, Charles "Breezy Point Joe" Hynes was registered to vote from the municipal building, having sold his Flatbush house and moved on to a gated all white community in Queens.

The irony caught the attention of the press in a year that Hynes would face his toughest battle for re-election... so the D.A. launched his offensive.

The "counsigliere" enters the fray - A.D.A. Dino Amoroso, Hynes' $150,000 a year chief deputy was now dispatched to handle the story that was being played out in publications from the New York Times to the New Zealand Herald.  A.D.A. Amoroso quickly dispatched a message to Harper's publisher demanding a retraction, or face a multi-million dollar lawsuit over the scurrilous accusation that Hynes had fudged his residence. But, it turns out that Dino had a problem at home. A.D.A. Amoroso, while residing in a Long Island mansion, tried to meet the city's residency requirements by registering to vote from his parents home in Queens.  A special prosecutor was appointed, and the end of Dino's 15 year tenure at the Hynes office he was left to resign in disgrace.  Dino was not a wartime counsigliere, and the residency issue for D.A.'s went from being an embarrassing story to a virus that spread throughout the city.

The New York Law Journal reported that 23% of Hynes' A.D.A.s were out of town, and the Daily News editorial board reported that 33% of the prosecutors in Queens D.A. Brown's office were in violation of the residency law.  The Bronx D.A. had his own issues and the Manhattan D.A. invoked his right to remain silent. Only Dan Donovan, the Staten Island D.A. was able to state that he was not only in full compliance with the law, but that most of his A.D.A.s resided in Staten Island.

The solution - D.A.s Hynes and Brown then teamed up to devise a solution to combat this flagrant violation of the law by their staff.  "Follow the law"?  Why bother...when you can just change it?

Hynes' crony, State Senator Martin Golden of Brooklyn, and D.A. Brown flack State Senator Frank Padavan of Queens wrote a bill changing the residency requirements for A.D.A.s that they no longer have to reside in the five counties of New York City.  The bill which was signed into law by former Governor Eliot G. Spitzer only requires that A.D.A.s live within the State of New York.

Sounds like the problem was solved...but the last time I checked a map, Montclair, New Jersey was still outside of the Empire State.

Interesting links:

A stench grows in Brooklyn

Remember John Kennedy O'Hara?


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