The Prosecutor Plays Defense: Can D.A. Hynes Have It Both Ways on Hasidic Molesters?

The election for district attorney in Brooklyn isn’t until next year. Still, the revelations have left Mr. Hynes in what would appear to be one of the trickiest positions of his long career as Brooklyn’s D.A. On the one hand, he must dispel the now-widespread impression that his office is playing politics and doling out special treatment to a critical voting bloc. And yet, for a position that is decided based on notoriously thin voter turnout, it would appear essential to maintain the allegiance of these reliable supporters.
Just how well Mr. Hynes can strike a balance between these seemingly conflicting mandates will be on full display this fall, when his office is expected to try one of the most contentious of the recent molestation cases: accusations against Nechemya Weberman, an unlicensed therapist who is alleged to have sexually abused a 12-year-old girl during sessions.

Mr. Weberman has enjoyed an almost shocking level of support, and his case has come to define the apparent denial or unconcern with which some members of the Hasidic community have treated the issue. During a fund-raiser for his defense held in Williamsburg in May, thousands of supporters showed up, a group of mostly Hasidic men who stared down, heckled and even charged at a small contingent of protesters who were demonstrating on behalf of the victim, who has remained unidentified.

To his credit, Mr. Hynes has met such belligerence with steely resolve. In July, he indicted four Hasidic men for trying to intimidate and bribe the accuser and her boyfriend into retracting the charges against Mr. Weberman. Always media savvy, Mr. Hynes seized on the incident to spin the story his way. He hadn’t seen comparable threats against a witness, he proclaimed, since dealing with the mafia. The former prosecutor, who rose to fame by busting a group of white men from John Gotti’s old stomping ground, Howard Beach, in a racially charged killing of a black teenager in the late 1980s, was back at it—grappling with a tight-knit subculture and its code of silence.

In the race for an outer-borough district attorney’s office, such headline-friendly sound bites are the stuff that keeps incumbents in power.

“Any time his office ever does something, they’re out there with a press conference,” said Abe George, a former prosecutor with the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office who plans to challenge Mr. Hynes in next year’s election.

After failing to win tough sentences in past abuse cases, Mr. Hynes needs to come up with a stiff penalty against Mr. Weberman if he wants to turn the page on his shaky record and put the scandal to bed. But to do so will shatter the community’s cherished illusion that men like Mr. Weberman can’t be guilty of such transgressions.

“It bothers me personally that someone accused of a heinous crime has people supporting him,” said Ezra Friedlander, a member of Borough Park’s Hasidic community who is active in lobbying. “But then again, the flip side is that no one there thinks for one second that he’s guilty.”

Losing a bloc like this could be a setback to Mr. Hynes’s re-election efforts, especially when in previous tight elections, the Orthodox community was one of the key groups that helped him edge out opponents, including one of his toughest contenders, John Sampson, in 2005.

Surprisingly, though, it turns out that not all, or even most, members of the Hasidic community oppose the idea of placing the investigation and handling of molesters squarely in the jurisdiction of the secular authorities—a fact that Mr. Hynes, for all his apparent pandering to top rabbis, clearly grasps.