By JOHN DiSTASO, News Editor
CONCORD — Attorney Dan Hynes of Merrimack says he’s learned his lesson, has paid a price for his crime and hopes the voters of state Senate District 11 can forgive him. That remains to be seen.
Hynes (who is no relation to former New Hampshire Journal co-owner Patrick Hynes) specializes in defending people who are charged with DWI. He filed his candidacy for the Senate seat being vacated by former state Senate President Peter Bragdon last week, joining several other Republicans in a primary race.
But seven years ago, Dan Hynes was convicted of extortion for what he says now was a misguided effort to address gender-based discrimination. He said Monday that the Hillsborough County North Superior Court granted his request for an annulment – also just last week.
Hynes, now 33, paid a fine, provided restitution to the victim, received a suspended 12-month jail term and had his license to practice law in New Hampshire and Massachusetts suspended for a year.
Despite all of that, he said, he knows he has explaining to do to the voters of District 11.
Hynes broke the law when he focused his crusade against discrimination on hair salons, of all things.
He had an issue with the fact that salons would charge women more than men for what he viewed as the same hair-cutting services. He wrote letters to 19 salons threatening legal action if they did not cease and desist. But Hynes went further.
He threatened to bring complaints against the salon owners to the state Human Rights Commission if they did not pay him $1,000. He did this on his own, never claiming to be representing a client.
According to the state Supreme Court’s March 2009 ruling upholding his conviction, the owners of a salon in Concord, after receiving a letter from Hynes, went to the Attorney General’s office, which sent an undercover agent to witness an agreed-upon payment to Hynes of $500 to settle the matter.
When that payment was made, “the defendant was arrested and charged with theft by extortion.”
Hynes argued not only that he was innocent, but that the law in question was unconstitutional. The state’s highest court upheld the conviction on in a 2-1 decision, with only three justices sitting on the case. In the meantime, the court approved the state Professional Conduct Committee’s recommendation that he lose his license to practice law for two years, with one year stayed because the committee believed Hynes acted with “the mistaken belief that he could pursue legal claims against the various salons.”
His license to practice law in Massachusetts was also suspended for the same period of time.
He said he could have been disbarred, but said the Supreme Court recognized his “remorse and inexperience.”
Today, Hynes’ campaign web site makes a veiled reference to the episode.
Under a section entitled, “Values,” Hynes writes: “Integrity – Dan Hynes is willing to fight hard for important causes. As a civil rights crusader, Dan is willing to push the envelope to help people achieve equality, fairness, and justice, even when this advocacy harms his career.”
His law firm’s site stresses his devotion to getting people charged with DWI off the hook.
“Attorney Hynes, the New Hampshire DWI GUY ™ is devoted to drunk driving defense,” his firm’s site says. “DUI defense is all he does. Don’t settle for a part-time DWI Lawyer. Attorney Dan Hynes is the only lawyer in New Hampshire who only does DWI Defense (Including license suspension hearings at the DMV related to the DUI charge).”
In an interview, Hynes said that although the conviction and license suspension occurred six-to-seven years ago, “I understand that it is on the front of many people’s minds.
“I made a mistake,” he said. “I thought I could bring those types of lawsuits and I couldn’t. It wasn’t about the money. I wanted equality and I feel strongly about all kinds of discrimination.
“Since that time, I’ve worked hard to rebuild my reputation and build up my law practice. But it happened.”
Hynes still denies that he was trying to “steal money. I thought I could bring those lawsuits. It was a mistake and I let my professional judgment be impaired by my feelings regarding discrimination. I hope the voters can see that I’ve worked to build up my law practice and that I fight against injustice.”
Shortly after being interviewed by the New Hampshire Journal, Hynes emailed the Journal this statement:
“Seven years ago when I was first admitted to the bar and starting out as a lawyer, I let my personal convictions against discrimination impair my professional judgment as a new lawyer. I threatened a lawsuit I should not have, but that I thought, at the time, would right gender based economic discrimination.
“The N.H. Supreme Court, in a split decision, determined the lawsuit would have been baseless. I deeply regret my mistake, and the Supreme Court recognized my remorse, inexperience, and cooperation with the case in sentencing and determining disbarment was not appropriate.
“Needless to say, if I had known it was a crime to threaten such a lawsuit, I would not have done so. I was not seeking financial gain, but sought to end discrimination and advancing equality. I should have never asked for money. The conviction has been annulled by the Superior Court. Since completing all of the Court’s conditions, I have built a successful law practice by fighting for justice and defending those who cannot defend themselves, qualities and values I hope to bring to Concord as District 11′s next State Senator.”