Only a Hynes sycophant could have claimed that his decision not to run for District Attorney in November on the Republican ticket was a “classy exit.” Charles J. Hynes’ political doom was sealed last Tuesday when he lost his Democrat ballot slot by eleven percent to Kenneth Thompson. Running in November in overwhelmingly Democratic Brooklyn would have compounded his humiliating record as the first sitting Brooklyn DA in 102 years to muff his reelection.
Oren Yaniv, who ran that story in the Daily News, together with Dareh Gregorian, also gave us the dog-bites-man, headline revelation that Thompson will fire Rackets Bureau Chief Michael Vecchione. Duh! Back in July, Thompson said, “If Hynes has any interest in protecting the integrity of our criminal justice system; he would fire ADA Vecchione immediately.”
If Vecchione wasn’t psychotic he would swallow his defeat, concentrate on landing another job, and hope he wasn’t going to get indicted or lose his law license. Even if he loses his law license he can still peddle his scripts in Hollywood.
Instead, according to a reliable source connected to office of the Kings County District Attorney (KCDA), Vecchione believes he is the victim because Hynes didn’t do enough to defend his so-called honor and integrity. Vecchione is nuts. Hynes persisted in his absurd defense of Vecchione even when it was costing him credibility in this last campaign.
Even Hynes loyalists are upset by this psychotic turn. Kieran Holohan, a former Brooklyn ADA, is a real Hynes man. He believes Hynes succeeded in fighting for justice on most fronts but was stymied by ultra orthodox Jews in prosecuting sex abuse cases and destroyed by Michael Vecchione’s misconduct. At most, he faults Hynes for being too loyal and too slow to realize that Vecchione was corrupt. On election night, Holohan almost beat up Vecchione at the Heights Café. A full-out brawl was averted by others who grabbed Houlihan and got him home in a cab. Holohan is also convinced that Director of Public Information Jerry Schmetterer is to blame for propping up Vecchione and participating in his schemes.
Vecchione’s paranoid fit has not abated. Two nights later he marred the wake of the late Frank Santo with his petulant self-pity and hostile criticism of others. Vecchione is a thug. But for his law degree, he would probably have ended up in the mob. But even they have the decency to dampen their internal squabbles out of respect for the dead.
According to sources I trust, Vecchione and Schmetterer are conducting a campaign to smear supporters of Thompson, or people they suspect of supporting him, especially past and present employees of the KCDA and people likely to be appointed to key positions by Thompson. Detective Investigators (DIs) in KCDA’s Rackets Division have been dispatched to exploit all the tools available to them to look for dirt on some of the targets. Some of these tools include databases only accessible to law enforcement personnel.
This is a gross misappropriation of prosecutorial resources and power since there is no legitimate prosecutorial motive for these investigations. Instead the targets were selected for purely political motives. In a healthier organization the DIs involved would realize they are not protected by prosecutorial immunity which does not cover the investigative activities of a prosecutor. Personnel carrying out these orders of Vecchione and Shmetterer are at risk of losing their licenses, facing lawsuits, and even falling into the sights and purview of federal prosecutors.
Director of Public Information Schmetterer, Vecchione’s closest ally, is deeply involved in these efforts because the facts turned up by these probes will be planted in major tabloid media and other outlets. For some of the targets, these will be one-shot, drive-by shootings. In other cases, Schmetterer and his proxies will throw the mud, splotch by splotch, building up the smear without even making it obvious who they are targeting in the first segment.
Another frightening aspect of these investigations and smear efforts is that they seem to be concentrated on African-Americans, both male and female. There seem to be two goals. Externally, the goal is to discredit Thompson before he even gets into office by alleging favoritism to Blacks who are supposedly unethical or incompetent. They are throwing inflammatory firebombs into an ethnically crowded borough. Brooklyn cannot afford to go back to the 1991 Crown Heights race riots. Yet they seem to be banking on hurting Thompson with the public along racial lines. It was bad enough when David Greenfield was playing that game during the campaign by trying to stoke orthodox Jewish fears of anti-Semitism. Fortunately, cooler heads helped deflect the worst of that ploy. But this effort will probably involve multiple proxies and will be harder to manage.
The second goal is inflaming tensions within KCDA. Tensions are already running high inside KCDA as staff try to figure out where they will stand under Thompson. It is clear that many of the top-level appointees will go, and most ADAs and DIs will stay, though it is less clear who will rise and who will fall, who will be secure over the longer term, and who will be on thin ice.
New bosses are scary in any organization. What makes it scarier for many KCDA employees is that they have never known any other DA. They have lived in a bubble of KCDA’s propaganda which makes it harder for them to believe that Ken Thompson can get it right. I say bubble, because for years the organization has been cutting itself off from reality. How else can one explain an organization foolish enough to try and block their employees from reading Frum Follies and other blogs? How else can one explain Jerry Schmetterer’s decision not to reply to normal inquiries from reporters of some of the most important media organizations in metro New York? I am not talking about cagey replies. He just wasn’t answering their emails. These are not new behaviors; they go back at least five years but spread to other outlets and reporters this July as the campaign heated up. The propaganda within the bubble has emphasized the innovative policies while ignoring the weaknesses of training, supervision and policies. Many KCDA employees do not even recognize that the culture of not documenting decisions and evidence hinders prosecution and lessens accountability.
This anxious atmosphere is being exacerbated by rumors about layoffs and suggestions of favoritism to handpicked African-Americans. Colleagues who used to trust each other are getting suspicious. Ironically, some people pretty high up in the Thompson campaign could not refute these rumors if they wanted to, because Thompson is still in the process of collecting information. It is widely known that he is canvassing the criminal defense bar for impressions of ADAs. Given his proud admiration of his mother, a retired cop, I would not be surprised if he wasn’t also canvassing folks in the NYPD who have interacted with KCDA. I assume he has some preliminary favorites but I am not sure if he will stick with them after he completes his canvass.
This sort of thing would be plenty bad over a two-month transition between a general election in early November and the arrival of the winner in January. But, because the election was settled in a primary in September, we are faced with a four-month interregnum.
If Charles Hynes was determined to ensure a classy exit, he would be minding the shop and stabilizing the atmosphere. Instead, he is away on a vacation. To her credit, Chief Assistant District Attorney Amy Feinstein cancelled her vacation plans to hold down the fort. It is not clear whether others in the upper echelons on the 19th floor are minding the shop and being proactive about maintaining morale and deterring misconduct. Ms. Feinstein will not be able to do it alone. When Hynes returns from vacation, assuming he has not checked out mentally, he might be influenced by his executive staff and he might be coaxed to put things under control. But this will only happen if his influential staff leads him in the right direction. No one seems to know how that will play out and I am not even sure if Vecchione has gone rogue or is acting out vindictive revenge fantasies of Joe Hynes. If he really cares and if he really takes control, Hynes might be able to promulgate the message, “We will continue to do our work and will not descend into internecine warfare.
But no amount of morale boosting will be enough if Vecchione and Schmetterer are yet again permitted to run amok. It is essential that Vecchione, Schmetterer, the rogue DIs, and others working for them are either fired, or at least taken down a few notches and sidelined. Perhaps, Monique Ferrell can assume an acting role in leading Rackets, a role she reprised in correcting the Vecchione-Hersh Brady training session
It was all good and well for Hynes to provide office space to Thompson’s transition team. But let’s remember, that is the standard response of a responsible executive in any organization whose new executive has been designated. To justify the claim that Hynes is presiding over a classy exit, he has to hand over an intact operation. I hope he does, but right now we seem to be watching a replay of that old Michael Vecchione script where a rogue racketeer is allowed to play cowboy with live ammunition while the rest of us watch the shoot-out unfold, and an indulgent papa defends his wayward son. I fear that Hynes’s final legacy will be this transition, which will be a recycled version of the last twenty years of “Father Does Not Know Best.”