Brooklyn District Attorney Race Ripe With Controversy

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(AP Photo/Seth Wenig 2008)
Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes speaks at a press conference in 2008. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Brooklyn District Attorney Charles “Joe” Hynes is about to add television personality to resume, but his opponents for the office are not star-struck.

The popularity of the borough that houses one of the largest District Attorney’s Offices in the nation drew the team behind 48 Hours to shoot and develop the a six-part so called documentary series set to air May 28. The episodes will highlight the DA’s office with Hynes at the helm.

“What makes this series so unique is getting into the lives and personalities of the individual DAs, led by Charles “Joe” Hynes, who reflect the vibrancy and diversity of Brooklyn,” Senior Executive Producer Susan Zirinsky at CBS News said in a press release.

Following the May premiere, Hynes is up for reelection in the September Democratic Primary. His two opponents argue that the show will give him too much airtime and perhaps question if it is legal.

Following the announcement of the show, Hynes’ opponent Abe George sent a cease and desist letter to CBS. Ken Thompson, who is also running for the position, said he sent CBS a similar letter, but would not go into details of its contents. Both are now contemplating further legal action.

“It’s a reality show. It’s not a documentary,” George said. “What you have here is six one hour infomercials right before the primary [election].”

Citing federal campaign finance law, he mentioned the $5000 maximum contribution limit for corporations to political campaigns.

“Can CBS involve itself in local politics?” George said. “It opens up a ton of legal issues we don’t need to address.”

“I think it’s ridiculous,” Thompson said. “The FCC requires equal access to all candidates. The people of Brooklyn should be given all sides and not just have one campaign promoted unfairly.”

Richard Huff, spokesperson for the CBS News broadcast “BROOKLYN DA” released a statement following the initial legal questions.

“CBS News will broadcast Brooklyn DA on May 28 at 10:00 PM as scheduled,” the statement said.

Jerry Schmetterer, Director of Public Information at the Brooklyn DA’s office, said the show has nothing to do with the upcoming election.

“CBS decided when to air it,” he said.

Schmetterer also said the show does not have a political edge. After CBS contacted the DA’s office and expressed their interest to film, he said the office decided to participate after “careful consideration.”

“We agreed to it because it would be information for the people to learn a lot about the criminal justice system,” Schmetterer said.

George Arzt, spokesperson for Hynes’ campaign, agreed.

“This was done to put a spotlight on the innovative work that the DA’s office is doing,” he said. “Anyone who sees it as political is just looking at in the wrong light.”

Arzt, who became the spokesperson for the campaign in December, also said he did not know the show was in production or being filmed until the CBS press release.

Despite what Hynes’ camp says, Thompson and George disagree.

“He’s involved in an election where I am challenging him and now he is going to have a TV show?” he said. “He’s never had a TV show in 23 years and now he is having one for the first time. It’s not a coincidence.”

“You have a professional wearing a public hat trying to promote himself publically,” George said. “The only reason he is doing this is for self-promotion.”

While the cameras are set to keep rolling, Hynes’ opponents have not exhausted their resources.

“We are going to monitor the show and take it from there,” Thompson said.

“We are exploring our legal options,” George said. “We might file a [law] suit.”


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