Wilmington Star-News

June 15, 2006

Blackburne Banished By State’s Highest Court

by Christopher Henderson

New York’s highest court ordered a controversial Queens judge off the bench on Tuesday for allegedly helping a robbery suspect escape from police in 2004.

In a 5 2 ruling, the Court of Appeals reaffirmed a State Commission on Judicial Conduct decision made last year to remove Queens Supreme Court Judge Laura Blackburne. In June 2004, Blackburne ordered a court officer to escort suspect Derek Sterling, to an elevator restricted to use by judges so that he could avoid speaking with a police detective waiting outside her courtroom. Sterling was later arrested, but cleared of all robbery charges.

“(Blackburne) placed herself above the law she was sworn to administer, thereby bringing the judiciary into disrepute and undermining public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of her court,” wrote the majority.

Two judges voted against Blackburne’s removal stating that a single incident of unethical behavior should not lead to removal.

“While it is true that judges should set high standards, it is also true that judges are human and may err,” wrote Judge George Bundy Smith in dissent.

Blackburne, 66, the wife of former St. Albans Democratic district leader Elmer Blackburne, had appealed the commission’s decision to the Court of Appeals requesting a lesser sentence of censure, instead of removal. She was suspended with pay by the Court of Appeals in December pending the outcome of her case. She is the fourth judge removed from the bench since 1978 and will forfeit nearly $140,000 in annual salary.

Voters elected Blackburne to a 10 year term in 1995. She had previously served as an attorney for the NAACP and as chairwoman of the New York City Housing Authority. She resigned from the Housing Authority in 1992 after she receiving negative publicity for furnishing her office with $340,000 worth of furniture.

The Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, the police union, which has clashed with Blackburne on several occasions, welcomed the decision.

“The New York State Court of Appeals has done a great service by permanently removing Laura Blackburne, a notorious cop hater,” said union President Patrick Lynch in a statement on the organization’s Web site.