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 Cuomo’s 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 Brown’s 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.
Queens D.A. Richard A. Brown
“On The Spot” Brown vs. bad guys at a Queens crime scene.
Brown and former Queens D.A. John Santucci (left) count down minutes to Brown’s succession in 1991.
“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. It’s 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, Brown’s office has shuttered more than 400 brothels – prosecuting hookers, owners and operators of the houses, and the men who patronize them.
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.
Brown’s 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 Wendy’s 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.
Brown On Background
Brown’s 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 Lindsay’s administration. He was also Lindsay’s liaison to Forest Hills.
Brown’s 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 borough’s 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 throughout Queens.
“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.”