New York Daily News

August 20, 2004

State takes action vs. side-door judge

BY SCOTT SHIFREL and MICHELE MCPHEE
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITERS

A Queens judge has been slapped with formal disciplinary charges for sneaking a robbery suspect out of her courtroom so he could elude arrest, sources told the Daily News.

State Supreme Court Justice Laura Blackburne has been notified of the charges by the state Commission on Judicial Conduct, according to several sources familiar with the case.

Blackburne is required to respond to the charges and then appear for a formal hearing before the commission, possibly as early as fall.

The commission can sanction, admonish or remove Blackburne from the bench if she is found guilty after the formal hearing. The panel also could vote to dismiss the complaint or caution the judge privately about the matter.

The judge ignited a furor on June 10 when she ordered a court officer to escort the suspect, Derek Sterling, out a side door of Queens Supreme Court so he could avoid police.

Sterling was in court for a review of his status in a court-ordered drug rehabilitation program. But authorities said Blackburne had been alerted that NYPD Detective Leonard Devlin was waiting outside her courtroom to arrest Sterling for his alleged role in the brutal robbery and assault.

Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, as well as the heads of police and court officer unions, blasted Blackburne for aiding the escape. Sources said the judicial conduct commission immediately launched an investigation.

Yesterday, commission officials declined comment on the case, citing state confidentiality laws. But several sources familiar with the case told The News that charges had been filed. It was unclear which specific violations had been cited.

Blackburne was out of the country on vacation and could not be reached yesterday. Her attorney, Richard Godosky of Manhattan, declined comment.

Union officials reacted positively to the news.

"I am gratified to learn that the commission has concluded the judge's conduct was inappropriate enough to warrant charges," said Detectives Endowment Association President Michael Palladino. "She has the right to a hearing, and they are going to call witnesses."

Palladino said Devlin is "one of the many witnesses who will be called."

The clash with cops was not the first time Blackburne had incurred the wrath of the NYPD.

In 2002, the judge occasioned a furor when she dismissed attempted murder charges against a man accused of shooting a police officer in 1999. She claimed prosecutors had failed to meet the six-month deadline for bringing the man to trial.

Yesterday, Patrolmen's Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch said his members will not be satisfied until Blackburne is permanently removed from the bench.

"In charging Judge Blackburne with violating judicial ethics, the Commission on Judicial Conduct has reinforced police officers' trust in the system," Lynch said.

Raising eyebrows

Feb. 22, 1992

Laura Blackburne resigns from her post as Housing Authority chairwoman under then-Mayor David Dinkins after criticism that she spent $341,000 to decorate her executive offices, including $3,000 for a pink leather couch.

November 1998

Appointed as a Queens judge, Blackburne rules that although defendant Alvina Toombs bit Officer Wayne Brooks on the thumb, the action was "more than justified" because of Brooks’ "brutality." Blackburne finds Toombs not guilty.

December 2002

Blackburne dismisses an assault charge against William Hodges, who was accused of shooting Detective David Gonzalez during a 1999 drug bust in Jamaica, Queens. Blackburne said Hodges had been denied his right to a speedy trial. Prosecutors say some delays were caused by the defense and that the judge was "mathematically incorrect" in calculating the speedy-trial violation.

June 10, 2004

Blackburne orders a court officer to take suspect Derek Sterling, who was in court to give a progress report on his drug rehabilitation, out a side door to avoid arrest in a robbery case.

June 14, 2004

Blackburne is reassigned from Queens Criminal Court to Civil Court.

Yesterday

State Commission on Judicial Conduct issues formal charges against Blackburne.