New York Sun
January 9, 2004
Today, at its regularly scheduled conference, the Supreme Court of the United States will decide whether to hear the matter of John O'Hara, a political gadfly and former candidate for office from Brooklyn. Mr. O'Hara holds the distinction of being one of only two New Yorkers to be criminally prosecuted merely for the act of voting. The other was the 1876 case of Susan B. Anthony, who cast a vote before women were granted that right. While the Supreme Court agrees to decide only a tiny percentage of the many cases brought to it, People v. O'Hara would be a choice case.
In 1992 and 1993, Mr. O'Hara voted from the address of his girlfriend, with whom he often stayed, rather than from his own home a few blocks away. He was criminally prosecuted not once, but three times; one case was overturned on appeal, the next ended in a hung jury, and the third resulted in a felony conviction. As a result, Mr. O'Hara, a lawyer, was disbarred, charged tens of thousands of dollars in fines, and sentenced to 1,500 hours of community service, raking leaves in a Brooklyn park.
The relentless legal pursuit was undertaken by Kings County District Attorney Charles Hynes, one of the frequent targets of Mr. O'Hara's acerbic tongue and anti-incumbent political barbs. In the city's political circles, it's widely believed that Mr. O'Hara made his own bed by antagonizing Mr. Hynes. Mr. O'Hara's request to submit a final appeal is, at its root, a claim that the Brooklyn prosecutor improperly used the power of his office to settle a political score.
We hold no brief for Mr. O'Hara; it was wrong of him to register and vote from a place other than his actual home. But he has clearly been held to a uniquely rigid standard that could cause widespread mischief in New York City and beyond if the Supreme Court gives an implicit blessing to what many consider a crusade against Mr. O'Hara.
For Mr. Hynes to continue effectively his investigation of wrongdoing in the Brooklyn courts, he must be above suspicion of using his office for personal political goals. The best way to dispel any doubts would be a full airing of the O'Hara case before the Supreme Court in the coming term.