New York Daily News

June 16, 2004

Court sgt. balked at judge's order

BY MICHELE McPHEE, SCOTT SHIFREL AND GREG B. SMITH
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITERS

     Laura Blackburne
 
Justice Laura Blackburne arrives at Queens court yesterday.

A court officer says he questioned Queens Supreme Court Justice Laura Blackburne's order to help a robbery suspect avoid a courthouse arrest - wondering if her directive was legal.

"If you won't take him out of the back, I will," the judge allegedly shot back.

The exchange emerged in a statement from Sgt. Richard Peterson, the court officer forced to escort suspect Derek Sterling through a judges-only door last week.

His statement, obtained by the Daily News, will be sent to the state Commission on Judicial Conduct, which is expected to open a probe tomorrow.

With outrage growing over her controversial action, Blackburne was reassigned from Criminal Court to Civil Court on Monday.

In the newly revealed statement, the court officer said he was perplexed "and felt uneasy" about Blackburne's order that he help the suspect evade arrest.

He said he asked if her order could be considered an obstruction of justice.

"Judge Blackburne interrupted me, saying, 'I am directing you to,' he said. 'She pushed her chair back and started to stand, stating, 'If you won't take him out of the back, I will.'"

The probe will focus on Blackburne's rationale for allowing Sterling to escape arrest.

Peterson said that after the judge gave him the order to escort Sterling out a back door, he told a prosecutor what had happened.

That prosecutor, Assistant District Attorney Sharon Scott-Brooking, then approached the bench, he said.

The judge contends that Detective Leonard Devlin - who came to the courthouse - "obviously misled" her by claiming he was there merely to question the suspect.

But Devlin has said he was "crystal-clear" about his intention to arrest Sterling, who was suspected in an armed robbery.

Devlin said he did not speak directly with the judge, conveying his intention through Peterson and Scott-Brooking.

Peterson's account is slightly different.

He said the detective told him "that Derek Sterling was to be questioned in connection with a robbery."

He said he advised court personnel "of the presence of the detective and his intentions."

The defense attorney Blackburne assigned to Sterling, Warren Silverman, said the detective did tell him he wanted to question Sterling - but would arrest him if he was not willing to answer questions.

Silverman said he then relayed that to Blackburne.

"She said, 'Arrest him for what?' I said, 'I don't know.' She said, 'You gotta have a reason for arresting someone,'" Silverman said.

Blackburne then ordered Sterling out the back door, claiming the detective "came to this building under the ruse of wanting to ask questions when, in fact, he had it in his head that he wanted to arrest you."

Scott-Brooking did not return a call seeking comment. Queens District Attorney Richard Brown, who has criticized the judge's actions, declined to comment.