District Attorney Candidate Claims Incumbent's 'Reality Show' Is a Gift
MANHATTAN (CN) - The CBS "reality" series "Brooklyn D.A." is an illegal campaign contribution to incumbent District Attorney Charles Hynes, his Democratic primary challenger claims in court.
Abe George and his campaign committee sued Hynes and his committee and CBS in New York County Supreme Court.
George and Hynes both seek the Democratic nomination this year as Brooklyn district attorney/Kings County district attorney.
CBS News spokeswoman Sonya McNair told Courthouse News that George should brush up on the Bill of Rights.
"We are surprised that this candidate would not know about the First Amendment," McNair said in a statement. "This is obviously a publicity push by a politician."
Press materials for the show paint a sympathetic portrait of Hynes and his office.
"Created by veteran CBS News producer Patti Aronofsky, 'Brooklyn D.A.' follows the men and women of the Kings County District Attorney's Office as they juggle more than 1,000 cases a week," a press release states. "These hard-charging prosecutors have larger-than-life personalities both inside the courtroom and out. They're eccentric and living right on the edge. They're the people living the lives that Hollywood loves to write about."
George calls the show an unlawful cash cow for Hynes.
"Defendant Charles Hynes has been Brooklyn District Attorney since 1989 and has operated under a mounting public perception that he will do anything - including misusing his broad prosecutorial powers - to achieve political gain for himself," George says in the complaint.
"That perception of Hynes has been reported in the press for years.
"The maneuver by Hynes to swing the election in his favor - this time with an unlawful campaign contribution - is just the latest example of impropriety of his 23-year political legacy."
Hynes all but admitted using the series to stay in power when he told Reuters, "If they couldn't take me out then, boy, you'll never take me out now," George says in the complaint.
A CBS spokesman insisted in a phone message to Courthouse News that the show should be called a documentary series.
George disagrees: "Brooklyn D.A. is a reality television series, not news or a documentary," he says in the complaint.
Press coverage appears to agree with George.
"Brooklyn's District Attorney Charles Hynes Gets His Own Reality Show Ahead of Democratic Primary," a New York Daily News headline said on March 26.
The Park Slope Patch reported: "Bklyn D.A. Hynes to Star in Realty TV Series."
The Brooklyn Daily went with a splashier: "Jwoww, the Housewives, and DA Hynes? It's time for a reality check!"
Whether the show is entitled to journalistic protection may depend upon the "reality show" distinction.
"Immediately following the announcement of Brooklyn D.A., Abe George sent a letter, via his attorney, to CBS Corp. President Leslie Moonves on March 27 asking the network to stop the broadcast on the basis that it violated state campaign finance laws," the complaint states.
"Following his letter, Abe George, through his counsel, sent CBS an email on April 1 requesting a meeting to discuss various alternative courses of action."
George claims a CBS lawyer gave him the brush-off.
"Contrary to your suggestion, CBS News' upcoming series of news programs focusing on prosecutors in the Brooklyn District Attorney's Office and their cases will not violate New York State campaign finance law or any other laws," the CBS attorney wrote, according to the complaint.
George claims that reply was disingenuous, given how CBS marketed the show on March 27.
"A new reality show will give us an inside look into the Brooklyn District Attorney's Office," the press release stated, according to the complaint.
"CBS also expressly categorized its announcement on the website under 'Entertainment.' This website is still available as of the date of this complaint.
"In contrast, CBS for example, on May 10, categorized a recent announcement about its news show 48 Hours under the title 'News,'" the complaint states.
George claims that the show is worth "well in excess of $5,000" the Hynes and his campaign, the cap on campaign contributions in New York.
"Without an order enjoining the broadcast of 'Brooklyn D.A.' until after the general election, the show will result in a corrupt electoral process, both real and apparent, and irreparable harm to plaintiffs," the complaint states.
"The corruption surrounding 'Brooklyn D.A.' is reinforced and perpetuated by the long history of impropriety surrounding Hynes and his politics, and this ethical taint has been widely recognized in published reports in the local media leading up to the launch of 'Brooklyn D.A.'"
George calls the show a gambit to boost Hynes' lagging campaign.
"The appearance that Hynes was stumbling continued in January 2013, when he fell behind his challengers, including Abe George, in his fund-raising efforts," the complaint states.
"The local climate of recent political scandals in New York involving, among other things, the exchanges of money for favors contributes to the public perception of corruption around the broadcast of 'Brooklyn D.A.' in the final months of the election."
George wants broadcasts of the show enjoined, and damages for violations of New York elections law and the state constitution.
He is represented by Aaron Rubin.