New York Daily News

June 11, 2004

Judge Thwarts Arrest at Court

SCOTT SHIFREL, MICHELE McPHEE and TONY SCLAFANI
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITERS.

A controversial Queens judge sneaked a robbery suspect out her courtroom yesterday when a detective showed up to bust him - a move that left the police commissioner fuming.

"This is outrageous conduct by any measure and beyond the pale for a sitting jurist," Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said in a statement. "At a minimum, her actions merit investigation for judicial misconduct."

Cops already were disgusted with Queens Supreme Court Justice Laura Blackburne for a previous case in which she freed cop- shooting suspect William Hodges, 32, in 2002, ruling he had been denied a speedy trial.

The latest controversy unfolded at the Kew Gardens courtroom when Detective Leonard Devlin came to arrest convicted drug dealer Derek Sterling on a new robbery charge.

Sterling, who was sentenced to a Queens drug rehabilitation center after his 2002 arrest, was expected to report on his progress in battling substance abuse.

About 10:15 a.m., Devlin told court officials he wanted to arrest Sterling, and they informed the judge, police said. But Blackburne accused the detective of using a "ruse" to make the collar.

"I resent the fact that the detective came to this court under a ruse of wanting to ask questions when, in fact, he had it in his head that he wanted to arrest you," she said in court.

Two hours later, Blackburne ordered court officers to escort Sterling out a side door toward the back of the Queens Blvd. courthouse. The assistant district attorney notified Devlin, who rushed around back but lost Sterling.

Cops were still searching for him last night.

NYPD spokesman Paul Browne said Devlin handled the matter in a "routine fashion."

"There was no ruse," Browne said.

David Bookstaver, a spokesman for the state Office of Court Administration, said, "We're aware of the incident and we are looking into the matter."