New York 1 News

June 14, 2004

Judge Who Helped Suspect Avoid Arrest Is Reassigned

A State Supreme Court judge who let an accused criminal escape her courtroom is being reassigned.

Justice Laura Blackburn has voluntarily accepted reassignment to the state's Supreme Civil Court Monday, pending the outcome of any investigations.

She came under criticism after allowing Derek Sterling, who was facing drug charges, leave her Queens courtroom through a side door Thursday, avoiding a police officer waiting outside to arrest him on separate robbery charges. She says she released him because police didn't have an arrest warrant.

Police arrested him the next morning.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg says he agrees with the reassignment.

“I think I don't want to prejudice any investigation,” he said, “but when people start interfering with our ability to keep the bad guys off the street, I think it’s time that we say something and let the judicial process play out the way it is.”

Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Pat Lynch said a reassignment is not enough, saying in a statement: "The issue is about judgment; hers is bad. She should not be on any bench."

The Commission on Judicial Conduct says an investigation into the incident is underway, and that Blackburne could face criminal charges. The commission is set to meet Thursday on the matter.

This is not Blackburne's first run-in with the NYPD. In 2002, she dismissed charges against a man accused of shooting a rookie police officer, saying prosecutors took too long to present their case.

Just months after his release, the man was charged with assaulting another officer.

In another case, Blackburne, who is the former general counsel to the state's NAACP, found a woman not guilty for biting a police officer on the thumb. The judge said the action was justified because of the officers' brutality.

Blackburne also served as chair of the Housing Authority under former Mayor David Dinkins. She resigned after spending almost $350,000 to redecorate her office, including over $3,000 for a pink leather couch.

Blackburne has close ties to the powerful Queens Democratic Party. Her husband is a district leader, and she was backed by County Chair Tom Manton when she ran for Civil Court in 1995 and State Supreme Court in 1999.