By John O’Hara

Ubi jus,ibi remedium,” a phrase in Latin which means where there is a wrong, there is a remedy. I always believed that which is why I went to law school. But while I was being fingerprinted and photographed decades back, following my arrest by the Brooklyn District Attorney, I knew my path to victory was not going to be found in a Courthouse. It was going to be at the ballot box. Decades later it turned out I was right.

It was thirty years ago this month that I registered to vote and voted. For that simple and solitary act I spent two decades battling criminal charges. The past five years in courts on my malicious prosecution lawsuit.

The charge was count one, “filing a false instrument,” which was the voter registration card, my address the Brooklyn District Attorney determined was also false which was count two, and since I voted in the following five elections and primaries, these were considered illegal votes which meant an additional five felony counts, a total of seven felony counts.

All this sounds odd so let’s get to the real reason why the Brooklyn DA targeted me. I ran for office five times against machine backed candidates and I lost. The winner takes office and the loser goes to jail. But since my case was upheld by New York’s high court, the case of People v O’Hara now had larger implications. Anyone in New York who did not pledge allegiance to one residence indefinitely was now subject to felony prosecution, unless they decline to vote. I felt bad about that because Liberty is not something that gets taken away all at once. It gets chipped away at slowly and slowly.

I was the first person to be prosecuted for illegal voting in New York State since 1873. The defendant in that case was Susan B. Anthony. I also became the first person to be tried in Brooklyn three times on the same charge. At the first trial I was convicted, but it was reversed on appeal. The second trial was a hung jury and at the third trial I was convicted again. The penalty was 5 years of probation, $16,000 in fines, 1,500 hours of community service, and I was disbarred from the practice of law.

There were a dozen appeals, months turned into years and years turned into decades. When you have been wrongly convicted you become consumed with your own vindication. But what I really focused on was running candidates for Brooklyn District Attorney, which happens every four years. Finally in 2013 Charles Hynes became the first District Attorney to be defeated in New York City in over one hundred years. Three years after that, in 2017 the new District Attorney overturned my conviction.

An investigation by the new District Attorney revealed that the State Assemblyman I ran against instigated the prosecution and acted as the DA’s secret investigator. But the political influence didn’t just extend to the District Attorney. Discovery has revealed Judges were spoken to as well. You see nobody ever got wrongfully convicted in a Court Room by accident. That’s just not how it happens. A prosecutor decides who is guilty and then figures out a way to prove it. And when a prosecutor’s misconduct is exposed, they face no consequences. So much for the cliché “nobody is above the law.”  There are no checks and balances in place to combat these abuses. Prosecutors control what goes on in the Courts while the Judges just direct the traffic.

My point to this story is not to discourage anyone from voting. There are good things that came out of this. After the District Attorney was ousted the new DA overturned over 30 convictions of people wrongfully convicted, bad prosecutors in the office were fired, and I didn’t have to wait for my funeral to find out who my friends really are. What I want is for people to embrace the political process. Politics can be the great equalizer and if it wasn’t for the fact that we elect our District Attorneys I’d still be a convicted felon today.


After 20 years,

On January 12, 2017

Illegal Voting Conviction — Held Out as Example of 'Double Standard' — Vacated
Andrew Denney/NYLJ

Lawyer Dennis Kelly, left, and his client, attorney John O'Hara, at Brooklyn Supreme Court on Thursday

A Brooklyn attorney's nearly 18-year-old illegal voting conviction—one he described as an act of political retribution by former District Attorney Charles Hynes—was thrown out on Thursday.

John O'Hara's conviction was vacated at the state Supreme Court building in downtown Brooklyn, which has seen more than 20 exonerations in recent years, but typically for defendants wrongly convicted of more serious crimes like murder or sexual assault.

"When you're a convicted felon, it's like you're a second-class citizen," O'Hara told reporters shortly after Acting Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Miriam Cyrulnik granted his 440 motion.

The case stemmed from O'Hara registering to vote and voting from a building in the Sunset Park section of Brooklyn owned by his ex-girlfriend, which prosecutors argued was not O'Hara's actual residence.

O'Hara was the first New Yorker to be convicted of illegal voting since 1873, when suffragist Susan B. Anthony cast a vote before women were legally allowed to do so.

O'Hara, 54, worked on Hynes' first district attorney campaign in 1989. Following his own unsuccessful run for the New York State Assembly, the following year he began working on "insurgent" campaigns to challenge Hynes and other members of Brooklyn's Democratic establishment.

O'Hara had lived in an apartment on 61st Street in Brooklyn and voted from that address, but redistricting in the early 1990s put his apartment in a different election district.

O'Hara filed a new registration form stating his residence was at the 47th Street basement apartment of the building owned by his ex-girlfriend, which put O'Hara back in his old district. He voted under the 47th Street address five times.

In October 1996, O'Hara was indicted on charges of offering a false instrument for filing in the first degree, false registration and five counts of illegal voting.

O'Hara stood trial three times in cases that revolved around the question of principal residence under Election Law definitions. Neighbors testified that O'Hara did live at the address, but the previous owner of the building testified that the basement was unfinished at the time, and thus uninhabitable.

The Appellate Division, Second Department, ordered retrial on the first conviction, citing an improper jury charge. The second trial ended with a hung jury and the third resulted in a guilty verdict in July 1999.

Because he was convicted of a felony, O'Hara was disbarred. The Second Department reinstated O'Hara in 2009 upon a unanimous recommendation by the 25-member Character and Fitness Committee, which said it had "grave doubts that Mr. O'Hara did anything that justified this criminal prosecution."

In his 2013 run against Hynes, Kenneth Thompson, who won the race but died in October from cancer before completing his first term, criticized the case against O'Hara. During an August 2013 debate, Thompson said O'Hara's case was "an example of 'double standard Joe' … If you're in with Joe then you get a pass. And if you challenge him or you challenge any of his political allies, then you have problems."

Under Thompson, the Brooklyn DA's office worked to vacate convictions for more than 20 defendants.

O'Hara's case is the first under Acting District Attorney Eric Gonzalez—who Thompson hand-picked to run the office before his death and who has vowed to carry out Thompson's legacy—in which a conviction has been tossed.

Like the other wrongful conviction cases, the Brooklyn DA's conviction review unit scrutinized O'Hara's conviction. Assistant district attorney Mark Hale, the head of the unit, told Cyrulnik on Thursday that the previous owner of the building where O'Hara had registered to vote had recanted her original testimony that the basement was uninhabitable.

"Because of that uncertainty, we would posit that justice would not be served by going forward with a trial against Mr. O'Hara," Hale said.

Following his reinstatement, O'Hara got back to work as an attorney; of the cases he's taken on, he represented the estate of the late John Phillips, a Brooklyn Civil Court judge who died in possession of a large portfolio of Brooklyn real estate, at one point estimated to be worth about $10 million, but without leaving a will.

O'Hara's attorney, Dennis Kelly, said his client plans to file a civil rights action against Hynes and former assistant district attorney John O'Mara, who worked on O'Hara's criminal prosecution, for malicious prosecution and other claims.

"He was corrupt all the way through his tenure," said Kelly, of the Law Offices of Dennis J. Kelly.

Sean Haran of Walden Macht & Haran, who has represented Hynes in federal criminal matters, declined to comment.

Haran was Hynes' lawyer during an investigation by Eastern District U.S. Attorney Robert Capers into Hynes' alleged misuse of forfeiture funds, which ended in December without charges being filed.

Mirel Fisch of the Law Office of Anthony M. Grandinette, who also appeared for O'Hara, said O'Hara's counsel plans to file a notice of claim.

But for now, O'Hara plans to celebrate the fact that his name has been cleared. "I'm going to go have a chicken quesadilla," he said.


How, then did busy Brooklyn Prosecutors Fall Upon Mr. O'Hara?
NY Times
Read here

John O'Hara: The definitive timeline
Brooklyn Paper
Read here

A groundbreaking exposé of O'Hara's fight for justice for Judge John Phillips
A Life in Court: Friendship and Corruption Inside the Brooklyn System

by by Alysia Santo, The Brooklyn Ink
Read here

O’Hara was indicted by the Brooklyn District Attorney, Charles Hynes, for a crime that the New York Daily News editorial board called a “prosecutorial jihad”. John was charged with registering to vote, and voting. He didn’t vote twice in the same day, nor did he vote from a false address. His crime was that he had two apartments in the same neighborhood he’s lived in for his entire life, and the one he voted from was not his “principal and permanent” residence. Charged with seven felony counts, John was facing 28 years in prison for voting. The last person to be tried for “illegal voting” took place in 1873 in Rochester, New York. The defendant in that case was Susan B. Anthony.

Confined by probation for 5 years, fined $20,000, disbarred as an attorney and ordered to do 1,500 hours of community service, John never became bitter or disillusioned. But he also never gave up.

The case of People –v– O’Hara has became one of the most expensive criminal cases in New York’s history. John’s only real crime was refusing to bow to the crown of the corrupt party machine. An act for which he should be honored, not condemned.

Capital Tonight interview with John O'Hara