Read the court papers to overturn conviction

New York Times, O'Hara Turns The Tables on Hynes
New York Times

Clear John O'Hara's Wrongly Stained Record
New York Daily News

Did Joe Hynes cross ethical lines?
Brooklyn Ron

Voting is a right, not a crime
Times Union

Begging the gov's pardon for John O'Hara
New York Daily News

Gov. Andrew Cuomo should pardon political-vendetta victim John O'Hara
New York Daily News

Gov. Paterson's final interview about the O'Hara pardon

Gov. Paterson commuted John White’s prison sentence, now he must pardon John O’Hara
New York Daily News

A Life in Court: Friendship and Corruption Inside the Brooklyn System
The Brooklyn Ink, Alysia Santo

Gov. Paterson, pardon John O'Hara!
Time Union, David Kaczynski

Casting a vote made me a felon: As I later learned, the charges against me were fueled by politics
NY Daily News, John O'Hara

The Ballad of John Kennedy O'Hara
Bay Ridge Interpol

A voter, a felon and a lawyer
Times Union

Pardon him, sir: Paterson should clear Brooklyn man of the crime of voting
NY Daily News

Go, Alvin, Go!
Room Eight, John O'Hara

Pardon him, Governor: Brooklyn victim of political persecution should be exonerated
NY Daily News

D.A. Hynes and the Residency Meltdown
Room Eight, Vincent Nunes

Voting Isn't A Crime
New York Daily News

A Voting Outrage
Times Union, Albany

Triple Jeopardy
New York Sun

Hitting'em Where They Live
New York Daily News

Residency Redefined Under the Election Law
New York Law Journal

Voters As Convicts
Times Union, Albany

Brooklyn Eagle Cartoon

No Excuse for Slick Rick Pardon
New York Daily News


Casting a vote made me a felon: As I later learned, the charges against me were fueled by politics

New York Daily News
Sept. 2, 2010
by John O'Hara


The other day, I heard the best news to come out of Albany in years while working at my new law office in Manhattan. Gov. Paterson (above) announced he would be granting hundreds of pardons before leaving office.

A pardon is a complete exoneration for someone convicted of a crime. It's as though you were never arrested.

I need a pardon.

Fourteen years ago, I was arrested because I registered to vote. I didn't vote twice in the same day, nor did I vote from a sham address. The crime, "false registration and illegal voting," stemmed from the fact that for one year I lived at my ex-girlfriend's house in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, but didn't give up my rent-stabilized apartment 14 blocks away. A jury would have to decide if her house was my "principal and permanent" residence. Fingerprinted and booked by the Brooklyn district attorney, I was facing 28 years in prison.

Sitting in a Brooklyn courtroom while a prosecutor went through every check, credit card slip and tax return for the past 20 years of my life was surreal. The first trial ended in a conviction, later reversed on appeal. The jury deadlocked in the second trial. The third trial ended with another guilty verdict. The appeals took on a life of their own, with People vs. O'Hara becoming one of the most expensive criminal cases in New York.

In December 2004, Harper's Magazine published an article investigating the case, "Meet the New Boss: Man vs. Machine Politics in Brooklyn." As the piece explained, I had run for Assembly and City Council seats in five separate elections, and my persistence made some fellow Democrats angry. I figured that dissent was the greatest form of patriotism, but never imagined that I'd pay with my freedom for it.

Harper's reported that my former opponent, Assemblyman James Brennan, urged the Brooklyn DA, Charles Hynes, to find something on me. When the guilty verdict came in, Hynes reportedly called Brennan to announce that they had won.

Ironically, Harper's discovered that Hynes no longer lived in Brooklyn himself: He registered to vote from his office so that he could meet the residency requirement. Is that a crime? It certainly is, but, of course, there was no one to prosecute the prosecutor.

I rejected all plea deals because I felt that a hard line had to be taken against locking people up for minor voting infractions. After all, liberty is not something that gets taken away all at once; it gets chipped away at slowly.

Ultimately, I avoided prison. The sentence was five years of probation, a fine of $20,000 and disbarment as an attorney. I was also ordered to perform 1,500 hours of community service, which consisted of clearing litter from city parks. The "chain gang," as my friends called it, became a ritual over the years that, oddly enough, I took pride in.

Since turning 18, I never missed voting - and was in turn punished for this act fundamental to our democracy. The stigma of being a disbarred attorney and convicted felon altered my life, though in Brooklyn the best of times and the worst are always close at hand.

Last October, I was reinstated to practice law. The usually staid Committee on Character and Fitness of the Appellate Division of state Supreme Court recognized that the prosecution was political, stating "the machine went gunning for him" and "pounced on his change of residency, calling it election fraud." The committee "had grave doubts" that I did anything that justified a criminal prosecution.

I waited 12 years for that decision, but it's still not over.

People vs. O'Hara now subjects voters to felony prosecution unless they pledge allegiance to one residence indefinitely. A pardon from Paterson would eliminate that precedent. And that would be good for all of us.

O'Hara, an attorney, lives in Brooklyn.