New York Daily News

November 23, 2005

Let-'em-go Laura is dismissed

Judge 'placed herself above law' in sneaking suspect out courtroom, panel rules

By SCOTT SHIFREL
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER

Controversial Queens judge Laura Blackburne  
Controversial Queens judge Laura Blackburne  
Bye, bye, Blackburne.

That was the verdict yesterday from the state Judicial Conduct Commission, which recommended a controversial Queens judge be booted for helping a suspect avoid arrest by sneaking him out the back door of her courtroom.

State Supreme Court Justice Laura Blackburne incurred the wrath of the NYPD and other law enforcement agencies when she freed robbery suspect Derek Sterling last year.

"She placed herself above the law she is sworn to uphold and abused the power of her office," the panel found in an 8-2 decision.

No stranger to controversy, Blackburne, 67, has had repeated clashes with law enforcement during her 10 years on the bench.

As head of the city's Housing Authority, she was forced to resign in 1992 after she spent $341,000 to decorate her office, including $3,000 for a pink leather couch.

But yesterday her lawyer said the judge planned an appeal to the Court of Appeals in Albany. And longtime backers, like former Mayor David Dinkins, expressed support.

"I'm sorry to hear this," said Dinkins, who along with Rep. Charles Rangel (D-Manhattan) appeared before the commission as character witnesses for Blackburne. "I hope she's not removed. She's a very smart woman and a very good judge."

A grim-faced Blackburne declined comment yesterday and began clearing out her chambers after getting the news in the Long Island City courthouse where she was reassigned after the Sterling incident.

But the judge was contrite when she appeared before her disciplinary hearing this year, according to a transcript obtained by the Daily News.

"There is no excuse for what I did," she told the commissioners at the time. "There are lots of explanations. But I realized that day . . . that I had done something very wrong."

That meant little to the cop who was waiting outside to arrest Sterling in court that day. Detective Leonard Devlin came away empty-handed after the judge had a court officer escort Sterling out a back door.

"What she did makes her no better than the suspect," said Devlin, who recently retired from the NYPD. "She put a lot of people at unnecessary risk. I was very, very bewildered at the time."

Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, who blasted Blackburne at the time of the incident, said removing her from the bench was an "appropriate sanction."

Officials from the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association and the Detective Endowment Association, who jointly filed the complaint with the Judicial Conduct Commission, also cheered the recommendation that Blackburne be ousted from the bench.

"The only judgment she possesses is bad judgment," said PBA president Patrick Lynch.

Added John McKillop, president of the Supreme Court Officer's Association: "This judge has no place on the bench. Every day that she sits on the bench is a disservice to the public."

The finding against Blackburne, the highest-ranking female judge ever recommended for removal, is another blow to the city's judiciary, which has been reeling from revelations of corruption in Brooklyn.

Mayor Bloomberg has vowed to clean up the city's courts by fighting to reform the system of judicial selection.