The New York Times

December 7, 2002

Judge Sticks by Dismissal of Officer-Shooting Case


A State Supreme Court justice in Queens yesterday declined to reinstate charges against a man accused of shooting a police officer, saying his right to a speedy trial had been violated. The ruling drew angry criticism from police union officials.

The justice, Laura Blackburne, found that the charge of attempted murder against the man, William Hodges, 31, could not stand because the prosecution had been too slow to put him on trial.

Prosecutors will immediately appeal the ruling, said Patrick Clark, a spokesman for the Queens district attorney, Richard A. Brown.

Members of Mr. Hodges's family and supporters of Justice Blackburne packed the courtroom and hailed the decision, but outside, on the courthouse steps, police union officials demanded that the judge resign immediately.

"It makes every police officer doubt why they do what they do when the courts don't stand behind them," said Patrick Lynch, president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association.

The officer who was shot, David Gonzalez, has recovered and remains on active duty, now as a detective; he said he was deeply disappointed by the ruling.

"I wish I would have been able to tell my side of this story to a jury," Detective Gonzalez said yesterday. "I wanted a jury to determine his guilt or innocence. He tried to kill me. Now he is walking the streets. I hope he doesn't try to kill anyone else."

The decision was the latest, but probably not the last, installment in a contentious case that has already spanned three years, seven different judges, at least five prosecutors and three defense lawyers.

Mr. Hodges was arrested in 1999 after the shooting, which took place in his Jamaica apartment building when Detective Gonzalez was a rookie officer. The shooting happened during a scuffle; Officer Gonzalez's gun went off and a bullet struck him in the leg.

After numerous delays in the complex case, in October, Justice Blackburne threw out a 13-count indictment against Mr. Hodges and ordered him released without bail pending a hearing from the prosecution asking that the charges be reinstated.

At the time of that ruling, police union officials accused Justice Blackburne of favoring Mr. Hodges because the judge belonged to the same N.A.A.C.P. chapter as Mr. Hodges's mother, Sandra. Through a spokesman, the judge denied knowing Mrs. Hodges.

Police union officials have assailed Justice Blackburne, calling her biased against police officers and demanding that she step down from the bench.

After the decision was handed down yesterday, David Bookstaver, a spokesman for the State Office of Court Administration, issued a statement that said Justice Blackburne's decision "was not based on personal opinion or predilection but on the laws of the State of New York."

Mr. Bookstaver continued, "To personally attack a judge for doing her job is inappropriate, unfair and undermines our judicial system."

In her ruling, Justice Blackburne said the prosecution was required to bring Mr. Hodges to trial within six months. Prosecutors argued that Mr. Hodges and his lawyers had caused much of the delay, but Justice Blackburne in almost each instance attributed the delay to the prosecution.

The orderly courtroom scene that unfolded yesterday as supporters of the judge and Mr. Hodges packed the benches was in stark contrast to the scene at the previous hearing, Nov. 8, when police officers chanted "cop killer" and "disgrace" as Mr. Hodges left the courtroom.

After the judge delivered her ruling, she took the unusual step of having court officers escort Mr. Hodges from the courtroom and requiring everyone else to stay until she had left the courtroom.

Mr. Bookstaver said that while this was unusual it was not unheard of.

"This case is fraught with emotion," he said. "The court officers have as part of their responsibility the job of not even allowing a situation that may be unpleasant."