Brown Marks 50 Years As Attorney
Public officials past and present, colleagues and family turned out last Thursday evening to pay tribute to Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown and celebrate and commemorate his 50th year in public service.
During that span, Brown became one of the city’s most highly respected prosecutors by working in the state legislature in Albany, leading to his appointment as Albany representative for Mayor John V. Lindsay; followed by 24 years in the judiciary, as first a criminal court judge, then a state Supreme Court Appellate Division justice; and finally as Queens district attorney for almost two decades, making Brown the longest-serving DA in Queens history.
At the dinner at the United States Tennis Center in Flushing, with more than 500 guests in attendance, Brown was saluted as “an inspiration to other public servants and an extraordinary gift to the people of his community” by former Governor Mario Cuomo, who appointed Brown as DA in 1991 and whom Brown swore in as Lieutenant Governor in 1978.
Queens Borough President Helen Marshall, characterized the DA’s day-to-day performance as “perfecting justice”; Brown’s contemporary, recently retired Manhattan DA Robert Morgenthau, praised Brown for doing “a helluva job” and for being “one of the great district attorneys” and former Mayor Ed Koch called Brown “one of the great district attorneys”.
Congressmember Joseph Crowley, Queens Democratic Party chairman, served as master of ceremonies and hailed Brown as one of the most highly respected and fair prosecutors ever.
Also present was Brown’s lifelong tennis foe, former Mayor David Dinkins, as were pols from both sides of the aisle and a contingent of former Lindsay administration colleagues, including former Queensite Sid Davidoff.
Responding to the accolades, the 77- year-old prosecutor characteristically thanked his guests for honoring him, but then turned the spotlight on the people who served under him, including his present staff.
“In each of the positions in state and city government that I’ve been priviledged to hold over the past 50 years, I’ve been surrounded by the most talented and capable and dedicated professionals imaginable— men and women of exceptional ability and unbelievable commitment,” he declared. “Whatever success I have had over the years is because of you.”
Brown also signaled he intends to continue as DA.
“The reason that I’ve so much enjoyed my years in government, why I’ve found them to be so rewarding and why I so much look forward to continuing to serve for many years to come is because of each of you— because of your dedication, your professionalism and your friendship,” he stated.
With his wife, Rhoda, and three children looking on, Brown continued.
“It has been both a pleasure and a highlight of my almost 50-year career in public service to serve as the District Attorney for Queens County. Over nearly two decades we have developed into one of the most respected offices in the country by focusing on training and innovations that have raised the level of both our professionalism and aggressiveness.”
Brown concluded, “Despite the economic pressures and a caseload on track to reach 80,000 cases this year (up from 72,000 in 2008), we are confident that we will be able to maintain significant reductions in crime that have been seen in Queens County over the last 18 years.”
The veteran DA has overseen some of New York’s most notorious cases, including last year’s Sean Bell police shooting investigation and trial. Several years ago, he prosecuted the case against several defendants charged in the Flushing Wendy’s fast food massacre, and another grisly murder in a College Point apartment.
More recently, he handled the politically sensitive assault case against then state Senator Hiram Monserrate and got a conviction that led to Monserrate’s dismissal from the senate.
Despite charges from Monserrate that Brown was politically motivated in pursuing the case, Brown never backed off an inch.
Brown has also continuously been in the forefront of creating innovative programs, such as creation of a Child Advocacy Center for young victims of sex crimes, a Family Justice Center for victims of domestic violence and his office’s Second Chance Program for first-time, non-violent criminal offenders.
The DA’s office has also handled more wiretaps a year than any other office in the United States except for Los Angeles.
The office is also a leader in long-term investigations into such criminal activity as identity theft, mortgage fraud, credit card fraud, narcotics trafficking, auto theft and organized crime.
Brown was born in Brookyn and raised in Queens. He has made his home in Forest Hills for most of his life. He graduated from Hobart College in 1953, then received his J.D. from NYU Law School and was admitted to the bar in 1956.
Brown became active in the Forest Hills Democratic Club headed by Queens political power then state Senator Seymour Thaler. His involvement led the young lawyer, an affable and enthusiastic neophyte, into jobs with both houses of the legislature in Albany.
Brown caught the eye of Mayor John Lindsay, who in 1970 had just been elected to a second term and had his eye on the White House.
Then Governor Nelson Rockefeller had similar plans and was prepared to hurt Lindsay in Albany in any way possible. Lindsay tapped Brown to be his official Albany representative, giving the young attorney his first major career break.
When Lindsay’s term ended in 1973, incoming Governor Hugh Carey appointed Brown to his first judiciary post as a Criminal Court judge in Brooklyn, in September 1973. After two years, Brown was bumped up to supervising judge of Brooklyn’s Criminal Court, with full administrative responsibilities.
In January 1976, Brown was made an acting state Supreme Court justice by Carey. He was then elected to a full term in Queens Supreme Court the following year.
At the end of 1978, Carey summoned Brown back to Albany to serve as his chief legal advisor. In 1981, he returned to the Supreme Court bench. A year later, Carey designated Brown as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Appellate Division, a post to which he was later twice designated by Governor Mario Cuomo, who succeeded Carey.
In a major surprise, on June 1, 1991, Cuomo, who had become dissatisfied with the way Queens District Attorney John Santucci was running the office, appointed Brown to replace him. Brown was easily elected to a full term that November, and was also re-elected in 1995, 1999, 2003 and 2007.
Brown is a past president of the New York State District Attorneys Association.
Brown and his wife, Rhoda, have three children and two grandchildren. They still reside in Forest Hills.