It took 12 years, but John O’Hara finally beat District Attorney Charles Hynes.
In a scathing criticism of the longtime DA, a state judicial committee said last week that O’Hara, the only man ever convicted in New York for voting in the wrong election district, was the victim of an unjustified, politically motivated prosecution because of his support for Hynes opponents a decade ago.
“The committee has grave doubts that Mr. O’Hara did anything that justified his criminal prosecution,” said the final report by the 25-member Committee on Character and Fitness, whose finding was unanimously approved by the state Supreme Court’s Appellate Division, which reinstated O’Hara as a lawyer on Oct. 6.
“Mr. O’Hara, accurately it appears, claims that the [Hynes’s political] machine went gunning for him and pounced on his change of residency calling it election fraud.”
O’Hara, who lives in Sunset Park, was delighted to be reinstated to a profession that he has not be able to practice since 1997, when Hynes began his assault.
“Starting over at 48 feels great,” a boisterous O’Hara said as he picked up the official paperwork on Tuesday. “Great, great, it feels great.”
The reinstatement ends one of the most bizarre legal sagas in state history.
In 1997, Hynes prosecuted O’Hara for voting in a then-girlfriend’s election district. O’Hara believes he was targeted by Hynes because he had run five times against Hynes allies — twice for City Council, three times for Assembly — in the early 1990s. And he had also backed candidates who took on Hynes directly.
The conviction was legitimate — O’Hara freely admits that in 1992 and 1993 he did indeed vote in his girlfriend’s district — making him the only person besides suffragette Susan B. Anthony to be convicted of the obscure fraud charge. He was disbarred, paid a $20,000 fine and did 1,500 hours of community service.
Despite the Appellate Division’s ruling, that conviction stands — and Hynes’s spokesman Jerry Schmetterer was quick to point that out on Tuesday.
“The court upheld his conviction,” Schmetterer said. “We believe it, the court believes it, and the federal court believes it. He’s a felon and that’s the fact.”
But O’Hara’s lawyer Ezra Glaser called O’Hara’s reinstatement “a final indication of an outrageous prosecution, a political persecution.”
“It never should have happened and the committee agreed.”
This may not be the last anyone hears of the curious case of John O’Hara. Last year, writer Christopher Ketchum and director Nick Cassavetes were boasting that they would bring the story to the big screen — with O’Hara’s friend Chris Noth (Mr. Big from “Sex & the City”) considering taking the role of Hynes.
Hynes, who has been district attorney since 1990, is running unopposed in next month’s election.
©2009 Community News Group
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