On Nov 12, 1999, alleged drug dealer William Hodges shot New York City Police Office David Gonzalez after he grabbed his gun out of his holster during a struggle in a Jamaica building. Hodges was arrested and charged with attempted murder. Days after the shooting, the NAACP filed complaints against the police, charging police brutality. The charges were investigated and dismissed.
On Dec. 7, 2002, Hodges was set free by Queens, New York Justice Laura Blackburne, who declared Hodges had not been granted a speedy trial.
Queens DA Richard Brown pointed out that many of the delays had been caused by Hodges’ lawyers. But that didn’t matter to Blackburne. Brown appealed the dismissal of attempted murder charges.
A month earlier, the New York Daily News reported that Hodges mother, Sandra and Justice Blackburne were friends and belonged to the same chapter of the NAACP.
Blackburne’s ruling was later overturned and in 2006 Hodges was retried and sentenced to 25 years in prison. The jury in Queens Supreme Court Justice Richard Buchter's courtroom said they never bought Hodges' story that cops framed him - and that Gonzalez shot himself in the hip.
In June 2004, Blackburne helped an ex-con, Derek Sterling, evade arrest by having him taken out of the courtroom through a side entrance reserved for judges and jurors. Sterling was a suspect in a violent robbery and had a hearing scheduled in a drug case before Blackburne. The cop told a court officer he wanted to question Sterling, and then waited outside Blackburne's courtroom to arrest him because it's "accepted protocol" that cops not arrest a defendant until his case is finished.
The court officer, Sgt. Richard Peterson, told Blackburne that Devlin was there and she told Peterson to get a lawyer for Sterling. That lawyer told Devlin that Sterling wouldn't talk to him and the cop then told him he was going to arrest Sterling. Blackburne was incensed, and decided to help Sterling avoid arrest by the police.
Both Peterson and a prosecutor who was in the courtroom asked the judge to reconsider, but she refused. Blackburne later blamed her decision to help Sterling evade arrest on an NYPD detective and a female assistant district attorney, because she didn't do enough to stop her. "I would have expected more," Blackburne said.
Helping a suspect evade arrest produced a political firestorm. After an investigation of her actions, on June 14, 2006, Laura Blackburne was kicked off the Supreme Court, ending her career as a judge.
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.
Blackburne's supporters 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."
Previously, in 1992, Blackburne resigned as chairwoman of the New York City Housing Authority after spending hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to take business trips overseas. She also spent $121,000 to redecorate her personal office. This included $3,000 for a pink leather couch and another $5,500 for matching venetian blinds. Former Mayor David Dinkins had appointed her Chairwoman of the New York City Housing Authority.
Blackburne is a former counsel for the state N.A.A.C.P.