Queens DA Brown Is Stepping Down Early, Cites Health Issues

AP Photo/File

AP Photo/File

 By David Brand

Queens District Attorney Richard Brown announced Thursday that he will retire effective June 1, the 28th anniversary of his first assuming the office in 1991.

“It had been my hope that I would be able to finish out this term in office. Unfortunately, that is not to be,” he said in a statement. “Given the current state of my health and my ongoing health issues, it has become increasingly difficult to fully perform the powers and duties of my office in the manner in which I have done since 1991.” 

Brown said he has delegated Executive Assistant District Attorney Jack Ryan to take over the duties of the office while he deals with his health issues. Ryan will become acting District Attorney on June 1 and will likely serve until Jan. 1, 2019, when the next elected DA takes over, a spokesperson.

Seven candidates are vying for the Democratic nomination ahead of the June 25 primary election. Gov. Andrew Cuomo could appoint someone to take over as Queens District Attorney in the interim, but a spokesperson for the DA’s Office said she was not aware of conversations about a potential appointment.

“Election dates will not change,” however, said election law expert Ali Najmi, an attorney in Queens.

Brown previously announced in January that he would not seek re-election and that he will leave office at the end of his current term.

“After almost six decades in public service, the last 27 years spent as District Attorney of Queens County, and after careful thought and consideration, I have made the decision to finish out my current term and not seek re-election,” Brown said in a statement.

Brown has served as Queens DA since 1991.

“When I was appointed District Attorney by then Governor Mario M. Cuomo in 1991, one of my chief goals was to elevate the standards of professionalism in the office by hiring people on merit, not political connections,” Brown said. “Without question, we have overwhelmingly achieved that goal.”

Before he was appointed DA, Brown served as counsel to the state Assembly and sat on the bench in Queens Criminal Court, Queens Supreme Court and the Appellate Division, Second Department.

In a statement announcing his departure at the end of the year, Brown said he was proud of major reductions in violent crime — in 2018, Queens recorded 63 murders, the lowest number since 1965 — and various initiatives enacted by the DA’s office over the past three decades.

“I am grateful that the many specialty courts we pioneered — like having one of the state’s first Drug Courts, as well as a Mental Health Court and Veterans Court — have enjoyed enduring success and have been duplicated around the nation, Brown said. “Our Queens Treatment Intervention Program (QTIP) is making great strides to address the scourge of opioid addiction by not only avoiding criminal convictions but by saving lives and providing treatment and counseling.”

Various Queens DA office policies have come under fire from criminal justice reform advocates, however.

Brown has been criticized for continuing to prosecute low-level marijuana offenses that disproportionately affect people of color, failing to institute an immigration hardship plea policy and for maintaining a “no plea” policy, which prevents defendants from negotiating a plea deal after grand jury indictment.

Seven candidates have already lined up to replace Brown in the 2019 election. Public defender Tiffany Cabán, Councilmember Rory Lancman, Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, former Judge Gregory Lasak, attorney Betty Lugo, former Queens prosecutor and Civilian Complaint Review Board Director Mina Malik and former state Attorney General’s Office prosecutor Jose Nieves have each declared their candidacy for DA.