New York Daily News

June 14, 2004

Judge who helped suspect escape arrest is reassigned

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

A Queens judge under fire from city officials for helping a man wanted in a violent robbery elude a detective has been reassigned pending any investigation into the incident.

Justice Laura Blackburne, who had been hearing drug cases in state Supreme Court, accepted reassignment Monday to civil cases pending the outcome of any “possible” investigation by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, said courts spokesman David Bookstaver.

Bookstaver said the reassignment followed a discussion with Blackburne, the administrative judge in Queens and the state’s chief administrative judge. Robert Tembeckjian, administrator of the judicial conduct commission, said a complaint about Blackburne had been received and the commission was expected to discuss the matter at a meeting on Thursday.

Police and union officials have demanded an investigation of the 66-year-old judge after she helped the robbery suspect, Derek Sterling, elude a detective last Thursday by having a court officer escort him out a rear door and to an elevator normally reserved for judges.

Blackburne has said that the detective didn’t have a warrant and alleged that he tried to set a trap by claiming he was there only to question the suspect.

“I’m not trying to keep you from being arrested,” the judge told the suspect, according to a court transcript. “I’m trying to keep you from being arrested today in my courtroom based on obvious misrepresentations on the part of the detective.” The suspect disappeared while the detective waited unaware in the hallway; he was caught about 12 hours later.

Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly called her conduct “outrageous by any measure.” Mayor Bloomberg also had harsh words for her.

“I thought what she did was an outrage and she should be ashamed, but that’s for the courts and the review process ... to decide,” Bloomberg said Sunday. “She deliberately tried to keep that person from getting arrested and to get that person back out on the streets where they can commit more crimes.”

Blackburne, a Democrat, has been the subject of controversy before.

At a stolen-property trial in 2000, the judge took an extreme measure to settle a dispute over whether a police witness could remain in the courtroom as a spectator: She closed the courtroom to all spectators, saying, “The public part of this trial is over.” An appeals court, citing the judge’s “manifest error,” ordered a new trial.

In late 2002, Blackburne drew the ire of police by dismissing an attempted murder charge against a man accused of shooting a rookie officer in the leg during a scuffle in 1999. She ruled that the prosecution failed to meet the six-month deadline for bringing him to trial; an appeal is pending.

When she was head of the city housing authority, Blackburne used taxpayer money to buy a $3,000 pink leather couch for her office — an action that helped speed her resignation from that job in 1992.