Convicted of a Voting Violation, O'Hara Appeals to Governor
New York Sun
November 13, 2006
By Joseph Goldstein
A dissident of Brooklyn's political machine, John O'Hara, is asking Governor Pataki to clear him of a felony conviction he received for voting from his girlfriend's address.
A governor's pardon is O'Hara's last hope of ridding himself of the felony conviction that stripped him of his law license and has kept his name off the ballot for the past decade. O'Hara, 45, has appealed his case 12 times, ultimately unsuccessfully, through the state and federal court systems, he said. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case.
The case has received the periodic attention of newspaper reporters and editorialists since he was arrested in 1996. His crime was registering to vote from the address of his then-girlfriend, who lived 14 blocks from O'Hara's permanent address.
After three trials, O'Hara was sentenced to 1,500 hours of community service and five years' probation. He got off relatively easy: He faced as much as 27 years in prison, according to the 21-page pardon application sent to Mr. Pataki on Friday.
O'Hara is fond of saying that he is the only person since Susan B. Anthony to be criminally prosecuted in New York for voting. The claim is repeated in his pardon application, which says O'Hara is the victim of selective prosecution by the district attorney in Brooklyn, Charles Hynes.
Critics of Mr. Hynes have rallied around O'Hara. Another Hynes opponent, Sandra Roper, wrote the pardon application for O'Hara. Ms. Roper, an attorney, ran unsuccessfully against the district attorney in 2001 with O'Hara's backing.
The pardon application describes O'Hara as a "political irritant" that the "Brooklyn Democratic Party Machine" sought to get rid of.
Through a spokesman, Mr. Hynes, referring to the pardon application, said: "That judgment is best left to the governor."
O'Hara said he has done 90% of his community service, which he has dragged out to give him grounds for his numerous appeals. Earlier this year, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denied his second habeas petition, leaving him without any further grounds for appeal.
"This is what the power of a pardon is all about," O'Hara told The New York Sun yesterday. "If there is a great injustice, the governor can say, ‘No, I'm straightening this out.'"
O'Hara's application was first reported in the Albany Times Union.
Mr. Pataki, who leaves office at the end of the year, has commuted the prison sentences of prison inmates at a rate averaging about three a year. Pardons, which erase a conviction, are more rare. In 2003, Mr. Pataki granted a posthumous pardon to comedian Lenny Bruce, who was convicted in 1964 of an obscenity misdemeanor charge.
O'Hara said he will seek a pardon from the governor-elect, Eliot Spitzer, in the coming year if Mr. Pataki does not grant him one in his last weeks in office.