John O’Hara finally looks like a winner again.
Emerging from the State Supreme Court on Monroe Place the other day, the former lawyer and perennial political candidate — and the only man ever convicted in New York of voting outside his home district — was one step closer to a rebirth of sorts: winning back the right to practice law again.
“Starting over at 47 isn’t so bad,” O’Hara told The Brooklyn Paper. “I’ve been able to hang in there, but I’m just looking for another chance to get back in.”
In the mid-1990s, O’Hara said he was the victim of a “selective … political” attack by District Attorney Charles Hynes, who prosecuted him for that most obscure of voter transgressions: voting from a residence that did not qualify as his “fixed, permanent, and principal home.”
The charge sounds like a joke — O’Hara did indeed vote in 1992 and 1993 in his girlfriend’s district and is the only person besides suffragette Susan B. Anthony to be convicted of the obscure fraud charge — but his conviction, sentencing and disbarment was anything but a laugh.
Indeed, he paid a $20,000 fine and did 1,500 hours of community service — an experience he describes as “a real drag.”
To this day, O’Hara believes he was targeted by Hynes because he had run against Hynes allies — twice for City Council, three times for Assembly — in the early 1990s.
“[Hynes’s] investigators went through every check and credit card and slip and tax return for 20 years,” O’Hara said. “The whole thing spun out of control, but what are you going to do?”
So what he did was simple: O’Hara kept his head high, dutifully cleaning up garbage from parks, keeping up on new case law, and volunteering his services to elect two judges to Civil Court. He also backed two candidates who ran unsuccessfully against Hynes and helped publicize the plight of Judge John Phillips, another Hynes opponent, who lost his real-estate fortune after Hynes’s office had him placed in protective custody.
All the while, O’Hara burned to get that law license back.
A disbarred attorney can reapply for his license after seven years, but O’Hara wanted his name cleared, so he waged lengthy and, ultimately unsuccessful, appeals. After both Govs. Pataki and Spitzer did not offer pardons, O’Hara finally reapplied for the license.
“Being a lawyer wasn’t that important to me when I was a lawyer, and now that I’ve had it taken away for 11 years, it would mean a lot more to get it back,” O’Hara said.
Hynes, through a spokesman, would not comment on the case. In earlier press reports, Hynes’s office has flatly denied O’Hara’s charges that he waged political war against the gadfly or against Judge Phillips.
Ultimately, O’Hara says he’s ready to move on in life. That process began in May, when he re-registered to vote — this time, in the right district.
Then, in late June, he applied for the law license reinstatement. In his request to the state appellate court in Brooklyn, O’Hara apologized to lawyers for any negative inferences his case brought to the legal profession. But that, O’Hara said in court papers, is “the extent of [my] ‘crime.’”
A ruling from the court is expected soon.
In the end, O’Hara’s ordeal has definitely pointed him to a once-unlikely future: he now wants to practice criminal law.