June 15, 2004
By LISA L. COLANGELO DAILY NEWS CITY HALL BUREAU
Embattled Queens Supreme Court Justice Laura Blackburne was removed from criminal cases yesterday and reassigned to Civil Court - as the storm around her gathered force.
For Blackburne, the wheels of justice began to fall off just before court opened.
In a dramatic morning phone call, Chief Administrative Judge Jonathan Lippman advised her to step aside while a state probe of her actions unfolds.
Blackburne, who agreed to the reassignment, is under scrutiny because she let a drug suspect use a judges-only elevator to evade a courthouse arrest last week.
She spent yesterday dodging reporters at the courthouse and keeping her mouth shut about the latest furor she had ignited.
But the forces against the controversial judge continue to mount:
The state Commission on Judicial Conduct is expected to open a formal probe into her conduct Thursday.
The commission received complaints yesterday from unions representing police officers and detectives - with the detectives' group saying the judge "should be behind bars."
Deputy Mayor Carol Robles-Roman sent a letter to the commission ripping Blackburne for "obstructing justice and endangering the lives of New Yorkers."
Gov. Pataki called Blackburne's actions disturbing, although he said he has no current plans to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate Blackburne.
Blackburne's actions yesterday did little to mollify her critics.
When she showed up for work, she had a two-person escort: NYPD Lieutenant Eric Adams, head of 100 Black Men in Law Enforcement, and another group member who did not identify himself.
That infuriated Supreme Court Officers Association President James Carr, who said his membership "perceived that she is bringing in these guys for personal security."
"None of these court officers are now comfortable working with Judge Blackburne," Carr added.
The temporary reassignment was designed to keep Blackburne from hearing cases involving police testimony, though in Civil Court she could still end up with complaints against police officers.
"Given the attention that the incident last week continues to receive, she understood it would be best that the judge not be the focus and that the litigants be the focus," court spokesman David Bookstaver said. "It was the appropriate thing to do."
Blackburne immediately took up her new assignment, presiding over a money dispute between contractors. Her $136,000 salary remained unchanged.
Patrolmen's Benevolent Association President Pat Lynch said the reassignment was not enough: "We don't want her sitting in judgment on any case, civil or criminal. Police officers have civil cases, too, and she is clearly anti-law enforcement."
Mike Palladino of the Detectives' Endowment Association, went further: "This is a judge that should be behind bars."
Sources said court officials were limited in what actions they could take in regard to Blackburne, who was elected to office.
At day's end, she sneaked out of court, with a friend driving her car past reporters as she shielded her face with her hands.
With Austin Fenner and Joe Mahoney