New York Law Journal
November 17, 2004

Much-Criticized NY Judge Overturned by Panel

By Tom Perrotta

Queens judge who has been repeatedly criticized by law enforcement agencies had one of her controversial rulings reversed yesterday.

The Appellate Division, Second Department, ruled that Supreme Court Justice Laura Blackburne should not have dismissed an indictment against a man accused of shooting a police officer during a drug bust.

The ruling comes several months after Justice Blackburne angered police officials in a separate incident, when she ordered a court officer to escort a suspect out a side door of her courtroom so he could avoid a detective.

The incident spurred the mayor's office and representatives of police unions to file complaints to the Commission on Judicial Conduct. Justice Blackburne was soon transferred from criminal court to civil court by the Office of Court Administration.

In the case reversed yesterday, Justice Blackburne had ruled that prosecutors in Queens had failed to bring the case to trial in six months, as mandated by Criminal Procedure Law 30.30.

A majority of the Second Department ruled in People v. Hodges, 2002-11322, that Justice Blackburne incorrectly charged prosecutors for time spent appealing a subpoena the defendant had served for city records under an Article 78 proceeding against New York City. (The Second Department ultimately quashed that subpoena.)

Since the defendant, William Hodges, could not be tried until the validity of the subpoena was determined, prosecutors should not have been charged with a delay, the majority said.

Moreover, the court said, Justice Blackburne had made other errors in calculating time charged against prosecutors, including several delays that were instigated by the defense or by Justice Blackburne herself.

Even if the prosecutors were charged with a delay for appealing the subpoena, the appeals court said in the unsigned opinion, prosecutors would still have spent less than six months preparing the case.

In a concurring opinion, Justice Sondra Miller agreed that charges against Mr. Hodges should not have been dropped. She found fault with the majority's holding that the subpoena appeal had effectively put the criminal trial on hold.

Justices Nancy E. Smith, Howard Miller and Daniel F. Luciano concurred on the majority ruling.

Assistant District Attorneys John M. Castellano and Sharon Y. Brodt handled the appeal for Mr. Brown's office.