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Queens DA Richard Brown remembered as innovator who drew 'universal respect'

Mourners packed The Reform Temple of Forest Hills to pay tribute to Brown, who was lauded as an advocate for crime victims and a law-and-order prosecutor.

A coffin carrying Queens District Attorney Richard Brown

A coffin carrying Queens District Attorney Richard Brown arrives at the Reform Temple of Forest Hills for his funeral service, Wednesday, May 7. Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

Queens District Attorney Richard Brown was remembered during an emotional funeral on Tuesday as a lion of the legal community, an inspiring boss, and a loving family man.

Members of the New York City political and law enforcement communities, past and present, packed The Reform Temple of Forest Hills to honor the revered prosecutor, who died on Friday from health problems associated with Parkinson’s disease. He was 86.

“His legacy lives on because Queens is a safer place...the city is a safer place,” Mayor Bill de Blasio told the crowd, which spilled out into the temple’s mezzanine. Officials from Brown’s office said  about 1,000 people attended the service.

Brown was first appointed Queens district attorney by Gov. Mario Cuomo in 1991 and went on to serve for 28 years, the longest serving district attorney in the history of New York City.

A funeral procession passed the Queens Criminal Courthouse on Queens Boulevard and Brown’s office on the way to the temple.

Mourners included former mayors David Dinkins and Michael Bloomberg, Police Commissioner James O’Neill and Attorney General Letitia James. Staten Island District Attorney Michael McMahon, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance and Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark attended. Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez was out of the country and sent a representative. There was also a large contingent of judges, clad in their black robes.

De Blasio called Brown an innovator, with integrity that was “unmistakable."

“It’s not an overstatement to say Judge Brown commanded universal respect,” he said.

Attorney Robert Tucker, one of Brown’s protégés, recounted driving him to crime scenes all hours of the day and night.

“Nobody knew the streets of Queens better,” Tucker said. “He was his own Waze navigation map.”

Those visits helped build strong ties between the DA’s office, the NYPD and the community, he said.

In March, Brown announced he would be stepping down on June 1, for health reasons. He had previously confirmed he would not seek another term in office.

Brown’s decision not to run for re-election  resulted in a crowded field of candidates vying for his seat in the upcoming June primary. His former chief assistant, John Ryan, is serving as acting district attorney.

Under Brown’s watch, the Queens district attorney’s office created one of the first drug courts and domestic violence bureaus, as well as mental health and veterans’ courts. He created a high school for at-risk youth, employed alternative sentencing and created an animal cruelty squad.

But Brown was criticized for a  hard-line approach to minor offenses and plea bargains that some people said unfairly impacted African-Americans and Latinos.

Many of the candidates running for his seat have promised progressive reforms.

Throughout the service, speakers pointed to Brown’s devotion to his wife, Rhoda, and three children, Karen, Todd and Lynn. He especially doted on granddaughters Leah, a cadet at West Point, and Alana, who will start at the military academy in the fall.

Tucke, who went on to serve as an assistant district attorney under Brown, recounted his former boss’s love of talking to the media,  with self-deprecating humor. He joked that Brown was even known to keep an extra can of hairspray on hand  to be ready for press conferences.

Ryan spoke of Brown’s loyalty to his staff, which he considered family.

“Honor him by doing honor to what he taught us,” Ryan said. “That will be his everlasting legacy.”

Born in Brooklyn and raised in Queens,  Brown graduated from Hobart College in 1953 and New York University Law School in June 1956.

Before becoming a judge, in 1973, Brown worked for the leadership of the State Legislature. He was a Criminal Courts judge, a supervising judge in Brooklyn and chief legal adviser to Gov. Hugh Carey.

Among his most notable prosecutions: the murder conviction in 1995 of an obstetrician for a woman's death during an abortion; robbers who murdered witnesses to a Wendy's holdup in 2000, and the officers who shot unarmed Sean Bell in 2006 on his wedding day.

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