Scott Shifrel, Greg B. Smith, And Michele McPhee, New York Daily News, Jun. 12
The Queens judge who sneaked a wanted man out of her courtroom is being investigated by the Commission on Judicial Conduct and eventually might face criminal charges, law enforcement sources told the Daily News yesterday.
Queens Supreme Court Justice Laura Blackburne could be tossed from the bench if the commission determines she erred when she let convicted drug dealer Derek Sterling out a side courthouse door Thursday after learning a detective had come to arrest him in a violent mugging.
Sterling, 24, was ushered out using an elevator reserved for jurists. Blackburne’s move drew stinging criticism from Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly.
Sterling went on the lam Thursday night, but cops caught up with him early yesterday morning.
Queens prosecutors said they will consider arresting Blackburne on misdemeanor charges of hindering prosecution, but only if Sterling is convicted in the robbery case. He is accused of being one in a group that stole a man’s chain, wallet and keys and beat him and kicked him, fracturing his eye socket, on May 23 in South Ozone Park.
“The district attorney’s office would first have to prevail in the first case [against Sterling],” said Pat Clark, a spokesman for Queens District Attorney Richard Brown. “There’s not going to be any consideration of a second stage unless the first stage is successfully completed.”
Blackburne could not be reached yesterday. Nobody answered the door or the phone at the two-story brick row house she shares with her husband in St. Albans.
Sterling was arrested after cops staked out a residential rehabilitation facility in Queens where he was sentenced after a drug arrest.
He was collared without a struggle, but police union heads said Blackburne’s actions had put cops in danger because the suspect could have been armed and ready for them.
Justice Laura Blackburne.
“Judge Blackburne’s anti-police bias has tipped the scales of justice,” said Detectives’ Endowment Association President Michael Palladino.
Palladino and Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Pat Lynch demanded that the Office of Court Administration investigate Blackburne criminally, and wrote a letter urging the Commission on Judicial Conduct to remove her.
The commission declined to comment yesterday, but a source within the agency said the investigation into Blackburne has already started.
David Bookstaver, a spokesman for the Office of Court Administration, said yesterday, “This incident happened at the end of the day before a three-day weekend. We’re aware of the incident and looking into it. . . . We had an hour to look into it on Thursday and we’ll continue looking into it on Monday.”
Sterling is being held in lieu of $50,000 bail. His attorney, Warren Silverman, said his client is the victim of mistaken identity.
A Checkered Past
Queens Supreme Court Justice Laura Blackburne dismisses an assault charge against William Hodges, who was accused of shooting Detective David Gonzalez during a 1999 drug bust in Jamaica. Blackburne said Hodges had been denied his right to a speedy trial. Prosecutors said some delays were caused by the defense, and that the judge was “mathematically incorrect” in calculating the speedy-trial violation.
An appeals court orders a new trial in a stolen property case, saying Blackburne should not have summarily closed her courtroom to spectators and witnesses.
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.
Feb. 22, 1992
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.