BY SCOTT SHIFREL DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER
|Time to hang up that robe, Your Dis-Honor. Justice Laura Blackburne, shown in 2003, was kicked off Supreme Court yesterday, ending career full of missteps.|
June 14, 2006—There goes the judge.
The state's highest court booted controversial Queens Supreme Court Justice Laura Blackburne from the bench yesterday, citing her "rash and reckless decision" to help a robbery suspect evade arrest.
In a 5-to-2 ruling, the Court of Appeals in Albany said Blackburne had "placed herself above the law she was sworn to administer, thereby bringing the judiciary into disrepute and undermining public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of her court."
Her "dangerous actions exceeded all measure of acceptable judicial conduct," the judges added.
The sacking ended a career in public marked by missteps - including frequent clashes with law enforcement during her years on the bench.
Patrick Lynch, president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, hailed the ruling.
"The New York State Court of Appeals has done the people of New York City a great service by permanently removing Laura Blackburne, a notorious cop hater," Lynch said.
Blackburne, 68, who was elected to the city's Civil Court in 1995 and state Supreme Court five year later, could not be reached for comment. She was said to be visiting with her daughter, a Washington judge who was recently nominated to the D.C. Court of Appeals, the District's highest court, by President Bush.
Blackburne was suspended without pay late last year after the state Commission on Judicial Conduct recommended her removal.
The panel wanted her canned for telling a court officer to escort robbery suspect Derek Sterling out a rear door to an elevator reserved for judges and out of the sight of a detective waiting for him.
Blackburne was presiding over a Queens drug treatment court on June 10, 2004, when Detective Leonard Devlin asked to question Sterling about a violent robbery. Believing Devlin was using "a ruse," as Blackburne put it, she instead had Sterling escorted out a backdoor. Sterling was later arrested at a drug treatment center but, ultimately, was cleared of the robbery charges.
John McKillop, president of the Supreme Court Officers Association, said he was "delighted to hear that this woman will no longer be inflicting her warped sense of justice upon the citizens of New York."
Blackburne appealed, arguing for censure - a public scolding - instead of her ouster.
"We're very disappointed," said her lawyer Richard Godosky. "She was very optimistic. She only had two years to go [until retirement] and everyone, everyone agreed that she would never repeat this."
Blackburne, a protege of former Mayor David Dinkins, headed the city Housing Authority during his administration. But she later resigned after embarrassing revelations that she had spent lavishly to furnish her office - including the purchase of a pink leather couch.
Still, Blackburne's supporters, many in the St. Albans, Queens, neighborhood where she had been active politically with her husband, Elmer Blackburne, were bitterly disappointed.
"She is a superb human being, a compassionate human being and this is absolutely absurd," said Hazel Dukes, a state NAACP spokeswoman. "Our community is shocked. It's a sad day."
Blackburne is the sixth Supreme Court justice in state history to be kicked out of office.
With Hugh Son
No one was happier to see Laura Blackburne get booted from the bench than the two cops she stuck it to the worst.
"I feel that justice was done," said Detective David Gonzalez, who was shot in 1999 by a gunmen later freed by Blackburne. "She has shown that she is no friend of the police. If anything, the opposite is true."
Blackburne freed the shooter, William Hodges, on a technicality, ruling he had been denied a speedy trial.
"It was hard for me to see the guy who shot me and almost kill me walk out of the courtroom," said Gonzalez, still in pain from the bullet that shattered his hip.
Blackburne's decision was later overturned, clearing the way for Hodges' conviction and a 25-year sentence.
The decision to remove Blackburne was prompted by a 2004 incident in which she allowed Derek Sterling, a convicted drug dealer, to evade Detective Leonard Devlin, who was waiting to arrest him.
"I put in 20 years on the job and saw a little bit of everything," said Devlin, who called Blackburne's ouster "long overdue."
"But, what she did still surprises me. I couldn't believe it," he added.
Scott Shifrel and Robert F. Moore