BY JEREMY OLSHAN & LIZ GOFF
The Queens Supreme
Court on Sutphin Blvd, celebrated its 60th anniversary this week.
Courthouses, like the laws they
uphold, are no longer carved in stone.
This shift in the culture and architecture
of justice is played out on Sutphin Blvd, where two courthouses (one old and one new)
stand side by side.
The Supreme Court (built 60 years ago) and
the Civil Court (built one year ago) demonstrate the importance of public spaces by
reminding us who we were, who we are, and where we are going.
When then Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia opened
the Supreme Court in 1939, the Corinthian columned structure was the tallest and most
expensive building in Queens. The weighty marble and the expansive lobby were designed to
more than impress the building was a symbol of the might of justice and the
solidity of our system at a time when depression and war caused us to doubt these ideals.
One cannot help but feel humbled by the court, just as one cannot help but marvel at the
craftsmanship and pride that went into the project.
By contrast, the new Civil Court, which
opened in 1998, is an airy tower of glass, putting forth a law that is not quite as
weighty, and creating the feeling of openness in a time that is suspicious and cynical
when it comes to our legal system. This court is more foyer than fortress. But now that
courtroom proceedings are broadcast around the globe, it is a symbol of the new openness,
for better or for worse, of our government.
A Celebration Of Justice
Returning to the stone foundations of our
justice system, judges, officials, and residents gathered at the Supreme Court to
celebrate its 60th birthday.
"It remains and is sturdy," said
Queens historian Jeff Gottlieb. "It is a shrine of American justice, a
for justice and right and respect for law and order."
What is remarkable about the building is
that at a time of great strife and depression, no expense was spared on these halls of
justice. The building cost over $5 million around the same time only $500,000 was spent on
The ceremonial courtroom
on the second floor is more than twice the size of a modern courtroom.
Tribuine Photo by Ira
"It is absolutely
magnificent," said Judge Steven Fischer, the administrative judge of Queens.
"When you approach coming down Hillside avenue, it towers over the horizon."
When one enters the building they are taken
aback by the three types of marble that fill the lobby, the large double staircase, and
the murals depicting both Mosaic and Constitutional justice.
One feels a connection to the building and
the boroughs history, and is eerily haunted by the souls of many shapes and sizes
that walked through its doors.
The courthouse commands such a mighty air
that the hallways and courtrooms of the building have often been used in films such as
"Bonfire Of The Vanities."
But the majestic, stately courtrooms have
been a source of difficulty for the court as well. Modern courtrooms are much smaller, so
that a greater volume of cases can be dealt with at one time, said Judge Fischer. This
problem was alleviated somewhat by the fact that the criminal part of the courtroom has
all been moved to Kew Gardens, and the jury room has been moved to the new Civil Court.
Also, a $40 million restoration project is now underway to return the marbles and murals
to their original glory, added Fischer.
Over the years these corridors have been
witness to the battle between right, wrong, and all of the gray areas in between.
According to Queens law enforcement
officials, the most sensational case in recent history to be tried at the Jamaica
Courthouse involved the 1992 shooting death of an off-duty cop in Bayside.
As the young cop lay bleeding on the
street, paralyzed from the neck down by a first blast from Patrick Bannons .9-mm
handgun. Bannon walked over to the cop, lifted his head and, despite his pleas for mercy,
Bannon pressed the hot metal to the cops forehead and fired. Eyewitnesses said
Bannon then dropped the cops head to the ground, got back in his car and silently
Patrick Bannon was an Elmhurst boy gone
bad. A graduate of the prestigious Regis High School, Bannon chose to bypass college to
pursue a career as a bar bouncer at the Palm Club on Bell Boulevard in Bayside.
Bannon took on a separate personality when
he stepped into his job as bouncer. Bannon, aka "Rico," truly believed that he
ruled the nights along Bell Boulevard. Until the early morning hours of July 18, 1992
when his alter-ego erupted in a blaze of gunfire. When the smoke cleared, two men
lay dead and one seriously injured on the boulevard.
One of Bannons victims was city
Housing cop Paul Heidelberger. Officials said Heidelberger was playing peacemaker in a
dispute at T-Birds Lounge on Bell Boulevard at about 2 a.m. on July 18, 1992, when
the fight spilled onto the street. Bannon appeared on the street and became embroiled in
the dispute and, at some point he was struck in the head with a bottle. Bannon believed
that Heidelberger hit him with the bottle and went back to the Palm Club to retrieve his
.9-mm and seek revenge.
After cleaning up at the club, Bannon
jumped into his car and cruised the boulevard searching for his alleged attacker. He
spotted Heidelberger outside T-Birds, exited the car and began firing. When the killing
was over, Bannon got back in his car and headed to his Elmhurst home, where he stashed
clothes, guns and ammunition into the trunk of his car and fled. His disappearance set-off
a massive six-week manhunt. Police applied pressure along Bell Boulevard, and broadcast
Bannons photo with the story of the murders on Americas Most Wanted. Five days
after the broadcast, Bannon surrendered to law enforcement authorities in Queens.
Bannon cried during his testimony at the
Jamaica courthouse. He told the court he thought Heidelberger had hit him with the bottle
when he set out to even the score. He also claimed that Heidelberger reached for his gun
as he lay on the street a move that made Bannon shoot the cop at point-blank range.
Impossible, prosecutors charged. Bannons first shot paralyzed Heidelberger from the
neck down he couldnt have reached for his gun.
Bannons jury split their verdict, but
found him guilty of murdering Heidelberger. He was sentenced to 30-years to life behind
A statement Bannon chose to run underneath
his photo in his Regis Yearbook read:
"Mans own worst enemies are
those dark forces and those unruly natures penned-up inside him."
In his closing statement to the jury,
prosecutor Robert Masters said, "Society must be protected from Bannon.
"He said he never meant it to
happen," Masters said. "But this was, indeed, something Mr. Bannon prophesized
eight years ago, in that yearbook.
"He was unable to control those dark
forces and those unruly natures penned-up inside himself."
Other recent cases tried in Jamaica that
grabbed headlines included:
Mildred Greene, a Jamaica livery cab
dispatcher who testified before a Grand Jury in a drug-related case and was gunned-down
after receiving threats that she shouldnt testify.
Greene was the first witness to be killed
under such circumstances.
The case changed the whole NYPD concept of
dealing with threatened or intimidated witnesses.
It was Queens first shaken baby case.
The infant, Mariah Swoon died in a Queens hospital emergency room after suffering massive
brain trauma. Doctors declared the infant had been "shaken," resulting in
irreversible brain damage and eventual death.
Despite his claims to the contrary, the babys father
Malcom was found guilty of shaking Mariah. He is currently free, awaiting appeal on the