January 20, 2005

Boro judge rated among worst by Reader's Digest

By Michael Morton

Laura Blackburne    
Justice Laura Blackburne  

Do not expect Justice Laura Blackburne of Laurelton to subscribe to Reader's Digest any time soon.

In its upcoming February edition, the magazine named the controversial Queens judge one of the nation's three worst jurists, awarding her the dubious distinction known as the Broken Gavel Award. Blackburne, who ordered a participant in a drug treatment program out of her court through a side door in June because she did not want him arrested by a waiting detective, joined a justice from Ohio and one from Kentucky on the list.

"It's a rare day in America when a sitting judge helps a criminal suspected of a violent crime flee a courtroom to elude a detective waiting to arrest him," the magazine staffers wrote in the article. A clerk at Blackburne's chambers said the judge had no comment on the ranking.

At the time of the incident, Blackburne was serving in the Queens Treatment Court in Kew Gardens on drug cases and was receiving an update about a convicted dealer going through a rehab program. When a detective came to arrest the man on suspicion of robbery, she ordered court officers to take the man out a side door because she thought the officer misstated his intentions.

Although the man was caught by officers a day later and was cleared of the robbery, Blackburne's action angered police.

"The PBA would vote for the No. 1 worst judge in the nation," said Al O'Leary, a union spokesman for the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association in Manhattan.

Blackburne has not been without her backers in southeast Queens, however, and they have said she was simply continuing her efforts to protect suspects' rights in a community often harassed by police. Borough President Helen Marshall also noted that justices in Treatment Court take a special interest in their charges.

"You have to report to that judge like it's your mother or father," Marshall said at a recent Rosedale town hall meeting.

After helping the man escape from her court, Blackburne was transferred to civil court in Jamaica and now hears cases in the adjunct location in Long Island City, her clerk said. Although by law the state Commission on Judicial Conduct cannot comment on its proceedings, O'Leary said the board is still investigating the judge's actions.

Before the incident, Blackburne infuriated police by declaring that the trial of a Jamaica man accused of shooting a rookie police officer had surpassed its legal time frame. Her dismissal, however, was recently overturned and the man may face a new trial.

The February issue of Reader's Digest was expected on newsstands later this week.

Reach reporter Michael Morton by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.