New York Daily News

June 13, 2004

Loony Laura lets one loose


You can say one thing for Queens Supreme Court Justice Laura Blackburne without fear of contradiction: She's consistent. Given the slightest opportunity to step into a pile of doo-doo, she'll march straight ahead until she's at least ankle-deep.

The other day, Blackburne topped even herself by helping a wanted man sneak out of her courtroom, lest he fall into the clutches of the police. The state Commission on Judicial Conduct is investigating, as well it should, but that's the least of what's called for here.

Blackburne deserves to be in front of the bench facing a criminal obstruction of justice charge for aiding and abetting a wanted suspect, a convicted felon no less, in fleeing from the police. How fast do you think you'd be in handcuffs for pulling such a stunt?

On Thursday, Blackburne was presiding over a hearing for drug defendant Derek Sterling when she learned that an NYPD detective was waiting to arrest him in connection with a violent mugging. Never a friend of the police, the judge told Sterling what was going down, made sure he understood his right not to speak with cops, and then had him spirited out a side door. Cops later nabbed him at a drug treatment center, after a 12-hour hunt.

Blackburne came to public attention as Housing Authority chief in the Dinkins administration. Profligate spending, from her $12,800 inauguration party to her purchase of a $3,000 pink leather sofa for her office, led to her resignation in 1992. Three years later - voilá! - she had a new career as a Civil Court judge, thanks to Queens Democratic boss Tom Manton. In '99, she was elected to the state Supreme Court - although, as this page has shown, such judicial elections are meaningless exercises, their outcomes predetermined by politics.

She wasted little time in screwing up. In 2000, after a dispute between defense and prosecution over the presence of a police witness, Blackburne responded by closing the trial to the public - a violation of the defendant's Sixth Amendment rights. Her "manifest error" was cited by the appeals court that ordered a new trial. In 2002, Blackburne freed an accused cop shooter, not by shepherding him out a door, but by dismissing all 13 counts against him.

The commission has every reason to move against this poor excuse for a judge. Alas, the panel has a history of meting out soft sanctions, but the public can always hope for the day it will awaken to the need for meaningful action against people who, in the guise of justice, subvert it. Like Laura Blackburne.