BY LIZ GOFF
The Titanic had its "Unsinkable Molly Brown," and here in
Queens, we have our own Brown legend ... District Attorney Richard Brown ("Judge
Brown" to those who have traveled with him through 30-plus years of public service).
Judge Richard A. Brown
On May 31, Brown celebrated his 10th anniversary as District
Attorney of Queens County. Surrounded by 500 well-wishers, Brown said that the past decade
has been the most rewarding and challenging of his career.
"We have accomplished a great, great deal," Brown said.
"More than most offices see in a lifetime."
Brown assumed the role of Queens top law enforcement agent when
former District Attorney John Santucci stepped down in 1991, after 14 years in office.
Brown left the Appellate Division to accept Governor Mario Cuomos appointment as the
Queens District Attorney.
The transition from Santucci to Brown began as the clock ticked-off the
final moments of May 31, 1991. A Borough Hall meeting that evening where Santucci
introduced Brown to his staff turned into a historic event, when Brown elected to have a
colleague administer the oath of office on-the-spot. The move was applauded by staffers
and the press as a "gracious gesture" on Browns part to build office
morale behind his leadership.
Brown was admitted to the Bar 45 years ago. His first
day sitting as a judge, May 30, 1973, was anything but routine at the Manhattan Criminal
Court. The novice judge was sitting at arraignments when a man started shooting at a woman
and a court officer started shooting at the man.
"First one pop, then two more pops," Brown said.
"When I realized what was happening, I stopped sitting. First I knelt on one knee
behind the bench and then, as the gunfire continued, I went prone to the floor.
"Neither the shooter (who turned the gun on himself), or his
girlfriend was killed," Brown said. "After that, I was affectionately known
among court officers as Duck-Down Brown."
The tireless district attorney has since become known as "On The
Spot Brown," for his knack of showing up at crime scenes. Brown said he gets to the
scene of every homicide in Queens, every major crime.
"It helps my understanding of the incident," he said.
"And it helps build confidence in the prosecution of cases. Its one thing to
read something on a piece of paper, and another to be there."
Brown assumed office at a time when crime had skyrocketed citywide -
and Queens had not been spared from the level of violence. The borough racked-up 361
homicides in 1991; 50,000 cars had disappeared off its streets, and houses of prostitution
lined the Roosevelt Avenue corridor. The task was monumental, but borough felons and
frauds were about to discover that Brown was a formidable opponent - and residents were
about to regain their long-lost quality of life.
Brown, working with commanders at local police precincts, sent teams of
investigators and detectives out onto borough boulevards and streets. Night after night,
police vans, patrol cars and unmarked vehicles sped to the sites where criminals had
virtually taken over neighborhoods. What followed was a wide-ranging sweep of brothels,
crack houses, drug dens and other "playpens" of criminal activity where police
arrested dozens of suspects.
"Today," Brown said, "the career criminals are in jail.
Homicides are down by forty percent [to 121 in 2000]. The amount of stolen cars has
plummeted as well, down twenty one percent [to 12,400 in 2000]," he said. And,
utilizing the court system to stem the tide of prostitution and related crimes along
Roosevelt and other avenues throughout Queens, Browns office has shuttered more than
400 brothels - prosecuting hookers, owners and operators of the houses, and the men who
Not even a quadruple bypass could stop Brown from attending to the
needs of the people of Queens. Just released from the hospital following surgery in the
summer of 1998, Brown insisted on stopping by his office before heading home - to
"check on things" and sort through some paperwork.
A normal work day for Brown runs about 16 hours, a calendar full of
staff meetings, one-on-one discussions with prosecutors, visits to crime scenes and
meetings with community groups.
Browns office is currently undertaking the prosecution of a man
charged in a crime that has been described as the "most horrendous" in the
history of the borough - the Wendys massacre. Alleged mastermind John Taylor is
awaiting his fate, facing the death penalty if convicted in the after-hours bloodbath at
the Main Street restaurant.
Browns legal background includes tenures as
Assistant Counsel to the Minority Leader of the Senate, Associate Counsel to the Speaker
of the Senate, Counsel to the President of the 1967 New York State Constitutional
Convention and several judicial posts. His legal service is capped by nine years of
service as Associate Justice of the New York State Appellate Division. He has also served
as Supervising Judge of the Criminal Court in Brooklyn.
Brown was counsel to Gov. Hugh Carey, and chief spokesman in Albany and
Washington for Mayor John Lindsays administration. He was also Lindsays
liaison to Forest Hills.
Browns family moved to Queens from Brooklyn when he was four
years old. He attended P.S. 147 in Cambria Heights, Andrew Jackson High School and Hobart
College in upstate New York. Richard Allen Brown ("my mother always insisted I was
given that full name, so I always include the A for her") has been
married to his wife Rhoda for 40-plus years. They have three children and one grandchild.
Brown said his office would continue to enlist the public in a joint
effort to battle crime and maintain the shine on the boroughs once-tainted quality
of life. He said he plans to stick to his agenda, which includes strategies, policies and
goals aimed at further stemming the violence that once threatened to destroy neighborhoods
"Queens is my home," he said. "Its neighborhoods are my
neighborhoods, its residents my neighbors. We have to continue to maintain the respect of
the law enforcement community with whom we work and the confidence of the residents of
Queens County whom we serve."