How do you sum up a 63-year career in public service in 900 words? That is how long Queens County District Attorney Richard A. Brown (“Judge Brown”, as he was affectionately called) served the people of New York State. Admitted to the New York State Bar in 1956, he served in various legal positions with the New York State Senate and Assembly, as well as at the 1967 New York State Constitutional Convention. He was New York City’s Legislative representative in Albany, where he worked on behalf of our city. He was a New York City Criminal Court Judge, Supervising Judge of the Brooklyn Criminal Court, was elected in 1977 as a Justice of the New York State Supreme Court and appointed as an Associate Justice of the Appellate Division, Second Department. He was Counsel to New York Governor Hugh Carey.
But with all these accomplishments, any one of which would make a person proud, Judge Brown’s service was just beginning. In 1991, Governor Mario Cuomo asked Judge Brown to leave the Appellate Division and accept an appointment as the District Attorney of Queens County. After 35 years in public service, Judge Brown accepted the appointment and served
28 years as District Attorney, the longest serving District Attorney in Queens County history. And what an amazing 28 years it was!
Judge Brown always joked that he told Governor Cuomo that he was only going to serve one term as DA. Instead he served 7 terms, re-elected each year by the people of Queens. He spent the rest of his life transforming the Queens DA’s office into one of the best, most influential and
highly respected DA’s offices in the state of New York. Drug courts followed, along with Veterans Court, Human Trafficking Court, youth parts, misdemeanor treatment courts, an Animal Cruelty Unit, an Office of Immigrant Affairs, Crimes Victims Advocate Programs, and an Alternative Sentencing Director with a large staff to divert defendants into programs. Over the years tens of thousands of people have been diverted into various programs resulting in no incarceration or criminal records. He started our Star Track program – an anti-violence program in Far Rockaway, Operation Summer Fun, school tours of the courthouse, and summer employment programs. In cooperation with the Department of Education, we operate the Queens Court Academy, a high school in our office for students involved in the criminal justice system to facilitate them getting their high school diplomas.
He created a Domestic Violence Bureau, expanded services for victims of domestic violence, and, along with the City, opened the Family Justice Center to help victims of domestic violence rebuild their lives. The Child Advocacy Center, expanded Second Chance Program, and the Queens Treatment Intervention Program all served to treat specific victims and defendants individually and find the best route to helping them cope with issues, whether it be child abuse, drug addiction or youthful, minor criminal activity.
But Judge Brown was always mindful of the need to reduce criminal activity in our county, and that he did. He knew that the best way to help victims was to prevent them from becoming victims in the first place.
The best way to reduce the jail population was to deter people from committing crimes in the first place. When he came into office, he attended as many community meetings as he could. When he couldn’t make it, he sent high level representatives. He went to as many homicide scenes as he could to let the police know that every homicide was important. He visited injured
police officers in the hospital and met with the families of murder victims and other crimes to console them and explain the justice system to them. He was in the office at 7 am and got home well into the night, after a round of community meetings. He hired ADAs on merit, staffed the Homicide, Career Criminal, Gang Violence and Hate Crimes, and Special Victims Bureaus with some of the best assistants in the office. He initiated more court-ordered wiretap investigations into violent gang activity, drug dealers, and financial fraud schemes than any DA in the state.
And all of this work paid off for the citizens of Queens County. The first full year of Judge Brown’s tenure, in 1992, there were 341 murders in Queens. In 2018, his last full year, there were 71. If the murder rate had stayed the same since 1992, there would have been 6000 more murders in Queens alone. Crime is down over 80% in Queens since Judge Brown came into office. Who would have thought that in 1992? Queens County has 28% of the city’s population, but only 19% of the violent crime. We have the lowest rate of violent crime of the four major counties in the city. What better legacy could a district attorney leave his constituents than that?
For all of his accomplishments, Judge Brown will best be known for his quiet dignity and intense dedication to public service. One of his proudest moments, in a lifetime of proud moments, came just before he passed, when he learned that his second granddaughter would be attending the United States Military Academy at West Point in the Fall, joining his first granddaughter who will be graduating from West Point as a Second Lieutenant in the United States Army next summer. His proud tradition of public service would continue with his grandchildren.
Judge Brown – we will not see the likes of him again.