Funeral Held for Longtime NYC Prosecutor, ‘Son of Sam' Judge

What to Know

  • Funeral for prosecutor and judge whose 40+ years in criminal justice stretched from the gritty "Mean Streets" era of the 70s held Tuesday
  • Brown was first appointed district attorney in 1991 by then-Gov. Mario Cuomo, a Democrat; He was re-elected to six terms, running unopposed
  • He was a judge for 18 years before serving as a prosecutor and was known universally as "Judge Brown"

- Elected officials, community leaders and members of the criminal justice community gathered on Tuesday for the funeral of Richard A. Brown, a prosecutor and judge whose four-decade career stretched from the gritty "Mean Streets" era of the 1970s to the current opioid crisis.

Brown was first appointed district attorney in 1991 by then-Gov. Mario Cuomo, a Democrat. He was re-elected to six terms in office, running unopposed.

He was a judge for 18 years before serving as a prosecutor and was known universally as "Judge Brown."

Brown, who was 86 when he died last Friday, had planned to step down June 1 because of health problems caused by Parkinson's disease.

"Richard Brown made a profound difference," Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio told mourners. "When we celebrate our progress as a city, he is one of the architects of that progress."

Brown announced in January that he would not seek re-election but would serve out the end of his term. Then in March he said he would step down on June 1 because of health problems associated with Parkinson's disease.

In a statement, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown, who was appointed in 1991, said that although the hoped he would be able to finish out his term in office, “that is not to be.”

It was earlier this year that the 86-year-old, who has been battling Parkinson's disease for the past few years, said he would retire at the end of his term and came to the decision "after careful thought and consideration."

In a statement at that time, Brown said he was "deeply appreciative and humbled to have had the trust and confidence" of voters for so long.

Brown, a 1956 graduate of New York University's law school, worked for the state assembly and was Mayor John Lindsay's legislative representative in Albany before being appointed as a criminal court judge in 1973.

On Brown's first day as a judge, a defendant pulled out a gun and started shooting in the courtroom. Brown saved himself by dropping to the floor behind his bench. 

Brown presided over "Son of Sam" killer David  Berkowitz's arraignment in 1977 under heavy security and intense public interest.

Brown served on the bench for 18 years, interrupting his tenure in 1979 to serve as Gov. Hugh Carey's chief legal adviser. He returned to the courtroom in 1981.

Brown oversaw the creation of programs including drug courts, a domestic violence bureau, an office of immigrant affairs and most recently the Queens Treatment Intervention Program, intended to help addicts avoid prosecution.

Violent crime rates plummeted during Brown's 28 years as district attorney. The number of homicides in New York City fell from more than 2,100 in 1991 to fewer than 300 last year.

While Brown and his fellow prosecutors were credited with helping make the city a far safer place, critics said his tough-on-crime policies contributed to unjustly high incarceration rates for black and Hispanic New Yorkers. Protesters chanted "Take down Dick Brown" last fall as they rallied outside a courthouse against what they called his "uniquely punitive policies."

Brown would have faced opposition if he had sought re-election this year, with several potential candidates vowing to reform the office.

Brown continued to come in to the office as his health failed, associates said.

"His mind was 100 percent sharp," said Arnie Kriss, a lawyer who ran Brown's first campaign for district attorney and spoke with him often over the years. Kriss added, "He has given the city of New York and the state of New York 60 years of service that can be only classified as outstanding."

Brown is survived by his wife, Rhoda, two daughters, a son and two granddaughters.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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