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Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes is coming under fire for treating child sex-abuse cases differently when they involve members of Brooklyn's ultra-Orthodox Hasidic Jewish community.
Hynes, who's served as district attorney for Kings County, N.Y., since 1989, set up a program in 2009 specifically to deal with child sex abuse in the ultra-Orthodox community, The New York Times reports.
Under the program, called Kol Tzedek or "Voice of Justice" in Hebrew, ultra-Orthodox Jews who are accused or convicted of child sex abuse are never publicly identified. Sex-abuse defendants of all other religions, however, are identified, according to the Times.
Brooklyn DA Charles Hynes defended the program. "It's a civil rights statute that precludes us from identifying the people," Hynes told New York's WCBS-TV.
Releasing the names of alleged and convicted child sex abusers within the tight-knit ultra-Orthodox Jewish community could unintentionally identify their victims, Hynes explained. Hynes' spokesman also emphasized the DA is allowed discretion in how best to handle such cases.
But critics say Hynes is trying to appease the ultra-Orthodox community's powerful rabbis, who are longtime political supporters of Hynes, an elected DA. The rabbis have a policy of "screening" child sex-abuse allegations before reporting the crimes to police, The Times reports.
Since that report last week, critics including New York City's mayor have blasted Hynes' disparate handling of child sex-abuse cases in the ultra-Orthodox community. Some compare it to how the Roman Catholic Church, and even Penn State, have allegedly failed to address child sex abuse.
Legal fallout is possible. If higher-ups choose to take action, Hynes could potentially face official misconduct charges if he knowingly refrained from performing his duty, and the rabbis' "screening" of cases could possibly rise to the level of criminal obstruction, FindLaw's New York Criminal Law Blog opined.
But Brooklyn DA Charles Hynes' office points out the program has resulted in the arrests of 95 ultra-Orthodox Jews in cases involving more than 120 victims. "It's really our decision what is part of Kol Tzedek," a DA's spokesman told WCBS.