The Chief
December 2, 2005

Panel: Blackburne Must Be Removed

Let Suspect Slip Away

By Reuven Blau

The State Commission on Judicial Conduct last week recommended that Queens Supreme Court Justice Laura D. Blackburne be removed from the bench for helping an assault-and-robbery suspect evade arrest outside her courtroom.

The majority of the 11-member commission concluded that Justice Blackburne had “set a reprehensible example for Court Officers and other court personnel.” Eight members voted for removal, only tow said she should be censured, and one was not present.

Unions Pleased

The majority recommendation stated that her action was “such gross deviation from the proper role of a judge that it justifies the sanction of removal.”

A total of 149 state and local judges have been removed by the commission since 1978. But Ms. Blackburne is only the fifth Supreme Court judge to face the commission’s harshest penalty.

Police and court union officials hailed the decision, arguing that Justice Blackburne’s move in June 2004 was illegal and jeopardized public safety. They have contended that she has long been biased against Police Officers.

In 2002, she drew the unions’ ire when she dismissed assault charges against a man facing trial for shooting a police officer because the case had lingered for three years. A state appellate court overturned that decision on Nov. 17, 2004.

Still Has Defenders

But City Councilmen Charles Barron of Brooklyn and Leroy G. Comrie of Queens defended Ms. Blackburne, a former counsel for the state NAACP who has long been prominent in Queens politics. Mr. Barron told the New York Times that the recommendation was “outrageous, extreme, unjust, straight-up bogus.”

Richard Godosky, Ms. Blackburne’s attorney, said he would ask the state Court of Appeals to review the commission’s decision. Such rulings are rarely overturned.

The commission noted in its decision that the facts of the case were “largely uncontested.” On June 10, 2004, Ms. Blackburne ordered Court Sgt. Richard Peterson to assist Derek Sterling in exiting the courthouse through her chambers as Det. Leonard Devlin waited outside her courtroom to arrest him following a court appearance. Mr. Sterling, who was apprehended the following day was being sought in connection with a violent mugging the month before in which the victim suffered a fractured eye socket.

According to court transcripts, Ms. Blackburne said that the Detective waiting outside her courtroom deceived her, and she told Mr. Sterling: “I am not trying to keep you from being arrested. I’m trying to keep you from being arrested today in my courtroom based on obvious misrepresentation on the part of the Detective.”

‘Community at Risk’

Michael J. Palladino, the president of the Detectives’ Endowment Association, maintained that the Detective acted properly. “Selective enforcement by a justice of the court cannot be tolerated, because it undermines the integrity of the judicial system and places the public and the law-enforcement community at risk,” he added.

As a result of the incident, the Court Officers’ Association and the Supreme Court Officers’ Association issued an order instructing their members to hold defendants who are wanted by the police until the proper law enforcement officials arrive.

COA President John McKillop blasted Ms. Blackburne as “a political hack that disgraces herself in the Housing Authority and then thought she could hide in the judiciary of New York State, where she again disgraced herself.”

In 1992, she resigned as chairwoman of the HA after it was reveled that she spent money on business trips overseas and more than $340,000 to redecorate her office, with a $3,000 pink leather couch and $5,500 for pink venetian blinds among the furnishings.

“Hopefully, we will have seen the end of her so-called public service,” Mr. McKillop said.

Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly called her courtroom behavior “outrageous conduct by any measure,” and told the New York Times, “Her extraordinary conduct merited this appropriate sanction.”

Justice Blackburne also infuriated the law-enforcement union in 2002 when she dismissed an assault charge against William Hodges, who was facing trial for shooting Police Officer David Gonzalez during a 1999 drug bust. She ruled that the Queens District Attorney’s Office had denied him a speedy trial, but the DA countered that some of the delays were caused by Mr. Hodges’s attorneys.

“Laura Blackburne has demonstrated throughout her career that the only judgment she possesses is bad judgment,” said Patrick J. Lynch, the president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association. “She aided and abetted a felon in escape that was wanted for questioning for violently robbing the citizens in Queens. She knew what she was doing.