Richard A. Brown, who served Queens for close to 28 years as its top law enforcement official, has died, his office announced on Saturday morning.
Brown, 86, had been battling from complications of Parkinson’s disease in recent years and announced in March that he was taking a leave of absence until June 1, when he planned to formally resign the office. He handed over his duties in an interim capacity to Chief Assistant District Attorney John Ryan, his top deputy, who announced Brown’s death.
“Judge Brown — as he has long been affectionately called — was a public servant like no other,” Ryan said. “He topped a spectacular judicial career and was appointed the district attorney of Queens County in 1991 by then-Governor Mario Cuomo. He was proud to serve the millions of people of Queens for nearly 28 years and was re-elected to seven terms in office.”
Prior to his appointment as Queens DA, Brown had been in the judiciary for nearly 20 years. First appointed to the bench in 1973, he would be appointed to the New York State Supreme Court and the Supreme Court in Queens. He departed the bench in 1977 to serve as chief head counsel to then-Governor Hugh Carey, then later returned to serve on the New York State Supreme Court and was later elevated to Associate Justice of the Appellate Division.
Governor Mario Cuomo tapped Brown to serve as Queens DA in 1991 following the retirement of John Santucci. From the beginning, Ryan said, Brown’s goal “was to elevate the standard of professionalism by hiring on merit, not political connections” and “made it a priority to have the most talented, capable and dedicated professionals imaginable.”
Working with local law enforcement, Brown’s era saw crime across Queens plunge from record highs in the early 1990s to record lows toward the end of his tenure. Brown would often tout the staggering drops in crime rates at meetings of local precinct community councils and community events across the borough.
Ryan added that Brown established various programs designed to protect the most vulnerable and give minor offenders a chance at redemption.
After being elected six times, often running on both major party lines, Brown announced in January that he would not seek re-election, largely due to his failing health. Seven candidates are now in the Democratic primary battle to succeed him. Ryan, meanwhile, remains as the acting district attorney of Queens County.
Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, in an official statement, said the entire borough “mourns the loss of a lifelong public servant” and honors his “extraordinary devotion and distinguished service to the people of Queens.”
Governor Andrew Cuomo called Brown “a giant of the legal community and dedicated public servant who spent six decades serving the people of New York.” State Attorney General Letitia James said she was “saddened” to learn of Brown’s passing, remarking that he “was a dedicated public servant who was deeply devoted to the people of Queens.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted that the city “mourns a dedicated public servant” who “was committed to making this city safer and brought hundreds of men and women into law enforcement.”
Councilman Francisco Moya, the son of a man who also suffers from Parkinson’s disease, offered praise for Brown’s decades of service to the city and state.
“It takes a person of uncommon character to serve others with the vigilance and dedication Queens District Attorney Richard Brown did,” Moya said. “Till the end, his life was spent in the service to his community. He worked every day to make our city safer throughout his 18 years in the New York Judiciary and 28 years as our borough’s top prosecutor. May you rest in peace, Judge Brown.”
The New York Post reported that Brown died while under care at a health facility in Reading, Connecticut, where he had been staying after taking a fall in his home.
Brown is survived by his wife Rhoda, their three children Karen, Todd and Lynn, daughter-in-law Monica, son-in-law Bruce, and two granddaughters, Leah and Alana, both of whom are members of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point (Leah is entering her final year, while Alana is entering her first in September).
Services for Brown will be held at 11:30 a.m. on Tuesday, May 7, at The Reform Temple of Forest Hills, 71-11 112th St., Forest Hills.