Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office Has a Witness Problem, Again

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NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 16:  Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes attends the 6th annual Brooklyn Tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at the BAM Howard Gilman Opera House on January 16, 2012 in New York City.  (Photo by Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images)
Photo: Astrid Stawiarz/2012 Getty Images

Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes is involved in yet another problematic sexual-assault prosecution. Here's the background: An Orthodox Jewish man named Sam Kellner helped Hynes's prosecutors find witnesses to testify against a Hasidic cantor, Baruch Lebovits, who Kellner says abused his son. Lebovits was convicted in 2010. But then one of the witnesses Kellner found said he had only testified against Lebovits because Kellner paid him $10,000, so Hynes's office brought charges against Kellner using the same witness. Now the New York Times reports that prosecutors say they've discovered the witness accusing Kellner has been accepting financial support from Lebovits's family, including legal fees, travel, rent, and school fees. That would be a pretty clear conflict of interests.

This led to some blowback for Hynes' office:

A lawyer for Mr. Kellner, Niall MacGiollabhui, said after the hearing that he approached Mr. Hynes’s office months ago with evidence that supporters of Mr. Lebovits were manipulating the accuser.

“The district attorney waited until two weeks before trial to look into it,” he said.

The lingering problem here is that Hynes has faced ongoing criticism that he doesn't prosecute sex crimes in the Orthodox community aggressively enough. In addition, Hynes's office has been accused recently of handling witnesses in a less-than-professional manner. This case involves both of those issues, so it's going to be one to watch, especially with Hynes up for reelection this year.