Among the possible successors to the office was a Brooklyn-born, Queensraised Associate Justice of the Appellate Division, Second Department named Richard A. Brown, who had first been appointed to the Appellate Division, the state’s second-highest court, by then Governor Hugh Carey and redesignated by Governor Mario M. Cuomo. On June 1, 1991, Brown left the Appellate Division to accept Cuomo’s appointment as the District Attorney of Queens County. He was elected to a full four-year term as District Attorney in a special election in November 1991 and was re-elected in 1995, 1999, 2003, 2007 and 2011. With his election to his last term, Brown became the longest serving district attorney in Queens County, surpassing the record set by District Attorney Benjamin Downey more than a century ago.
During his 21 years at the helm, Brown has earned the Queens County District Attorney’s Office a reputation as one of the finest prosecutorial offices in New York state. The prearraignment interrogation program videotapes defendants’ statements, cutting down on court battles about whether the statements are valid. Queens runs more wiretaps than any other office in the country except Los Angeles, and Queens was the first bureau in the state to charge a defendant with New York’s new sex trafficking law. Confiscating cars used in drag racing along Queens streets cut the street racing problem by a considerable margin and Brown has successfully gone after any number of counterfeit manufacturing operations and scams. Turning a prosecutorial spotlight on car thieves, chop shops and auto insurance fraud has seen the number of grand theft auto incidents drop while the number of convictions steadily rose. Brown’s policy of assigning a single assistant district attorney to an individual domestic violence case and use of digital cameras to preserve physical evidence of a victim’s abuse has resulted in a dismissal rate of 25 percent, half the number of dismissals in other jurisdictions.
Taking advantage of advances in DNA matching techniques, Brown has made the Queens County District Attorney’s Office a leader in the use of DNA to solve both violent and low-level crime. In 2010, some 45 percent of DNA matches for violent crimes resulted from DNA taken from defendants convicted of low-level crime such as burglaries. “As these burglars learned, and their colleagues will soon find out, wearing gloves will no longer protect a burglar from leaving incriminating evidence behind,” Brown noted in one of his “Opening Arguments” that inform visitors to the Queens District Attorney’s Web site. Queens nearly matched the rest of New York City in successfully tracking bail jumpers—314 for the borough against 375 for The Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan and Staten Island combined. Queens also leads in New York City gun convictions.
Brown also bends his efforts to preventing crimes. His office tries to divert first-time nonviolent offenders from racking up a criminal record through the Second Chance Program, in which teens do community service at local public libraries. If they stay out of trouble, their cases are dismissed.
Brown received his Bachelor of Arts degree from
Hobart College in
1953, graduated from New York University School of Law in June 1956 and was admitted to the Bar by the Appellate Division, Second Department in October 1956.
Prior to becoming a member of the judiciary in September 1973, Brown spent nine years serving in various legal positions on behalf of the leadership of the New York state senate and Assembly and at the 1967 New York State Constitutional Convention. For four years as New York City’s Legislative Representative in Albany, he managed the city’s Albany office and supervised its legislative program.
After serving as a Judge of the Criminal Court for less than two years, Brown was appointed as Supervising Judge of the Brooklyn Criminal Court and assumed full administrative responsibility for the operation of that court and supervision of all judicial and non-judicial personnel. In January 1976, Brown was designated as an Acting Justice of the Supreme Court of the state of New York.
In November 1977, Brown was elected a Justice of the Supreme Court in Queens County. At the end of the following year he returned to Albany as Counsel to Carey where he served as the governor’s chief legal advisor. On Mar. 3, 1981, Brown returned to the Supreme Court and the following year was designated by Carey as an Associate Justice of the Appellate Division, Second Department. He was thereafter twice redesignated as a member of the Appellate Division by Governor Mario M. Cuomo. He is still referred to as “Judge Brown” and keeps a gavel on his desk in the District Attorney’s office. That office may be relocated some time in the near future: talks are under way to lease approximately 180,000 square feet at Forest Hills Tower, space formerly leased by JetBlue, which decided last year to relocate from the 500,000-square-foot building to Long Island City.
Brown and his wife, Rhoda have three children and two grandchildren. He has undergone heart surgery, during his recovery from which he stopped in at the office on his way home from the hospital, “just to see how things were going”, and has Parkinson’s Disease, which he maintains is controlled by medication and does not interfere with his duties. His ambition is to break former Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau’s record of years in office. Morgenthau retired at age 90, and Brown is confident he will match that record and possibly even surpass it.