By David Brand
Thousands of legal leaders, prominent New Yorkers and everyday Queens residents gathered at the Reform Temple of Forest Hills Tuesday morning to pay their final respects to the late-Richard Brown, the longest-serving District Attorney in Queens history and a mentor to generations of attorneys, many of whom have become top prosecutors, defense attorneys or judges.
A procession that began at the Queens Criminal Courthouse, where Brown worked as a hands-on, deeply invested DA for nearly 28 years, ended a mile away in Forest Hills, where an honor guard carried a casket covered in a New York City flag into the synagogue.
The funeral organizers had prepared seating for 40 judges. Seventy-three showed up in their black robes to honor Brown’s life and legacy.
About 2,000 others, including Mayor Bill de Blasio and former Mayors David Dinkins and Michael Bloomberg, also attended the funeral to say farewell to the man affectionately known as “Judge Brown.”
“Everyone, we gather united, and the city is united in grief, in mourning, but in appreciation as well. A great man was here among us and did such good — 28 years as District Attorney of this borough,” de Blasio said. “Richard Brown made a difference, a profound difference. When we celebrate our progress as a city, he is one of the architects of that progress. When we think how much we have changed for the better, he was one of those change-makers.”
“He believed we could do more for young people with alternative sentencing. He saw what was possible,” de Blasio continued. “And with Judge Brown, you knew if he had an idea, he had the energy, he had the passion and determination to make it come to life.”
Brown was first appointed to replace John Santucci as Queens DA in 1991, after a tenure on the bench in Brooklyn Criminal Court, Queens Supreme Court and the Appellate Division, Second Department. He ended up serving as the county’s top prosecutor for nearly seven full terms before he announced in January that he would step down effective June 1 to manage his health. Brown had Parkinson’s Disease.
“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 in a statement announcing his decision to step down earlier this year. “Without question, we have overwhelmingly achieved that goal.”
Chief Assistant District Attorney Jack Ryan took over the duties of the office and will serve as Acting DA until a newly elected DA takes over Jan. 1, 2020. Ryan recalled Brown’s influence and service in a statement on Saturday and in a eulogy Tuesday.
“He was proud to serve the millions of people of Queens for nearly 28 years and was re-elected to six terms in office,” Ryan said. “Judge Brown’s goal as District Attorney from the very start was to elevate the standard of professionalism by hiring on merit, not political connections. And he made it a priority to have the most talented, capable and dedicated professionals imaginable.”
New York Attorney General Letitia James, NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill, Manhattan DA Cy Vance and Bronx DA Darcel Clarke all attended the ceremony in Forest Hills.
“For decades, Judge Brown was a dedicated public servant who was deeply devoted to the people of Queens,” James said in a statement. “My thoughts and prayers are with his loved ones at this difficult time.”
Vance said Brown “was an extraordinary lawyer who dedicated his life to public service.”
“I will remember him first as a friend,” Vance said. “He was always available for advice, often delivered with a wicked sense of humor.”
Brown was born in Brooklyn in 1932 but grew up in Queens. He graduated from New York University Law School in 1956 and went on to serve as counsel to the state Assembly before his career in the judiciary.
He passed away in Meadow Ridge assisted living facility in Redding, CT on Friday.
Brown is survived by his wife Rhoda, who accepted a flag in her husband’s honor from the NYPD after the service. Together the couple had three children Karen; Todd and his wife Monica; and Lynn and her husband Bruce.
Brown’s granddaughter Leah is West Point cadet who will enter her last year at the Military Academy next year. His other granddaughter Alana will start her first year at West Point in September.