Justice Laura D. Blackburne has been devoted to public and community service in the local, National and International arena for more than 45 years. She has been a sensitive jurist with solid judicial skills; a dynamic law professor; a gifted mediator, a creative conflict manager; an innovative and energetic administrator; a fearless Chair of the New York City Housing Authority; a tireless and effective civil rights advocate, and a vibrant public speaker.
She began her judicial career in 1995 when she was elected as a Civil Court Judge and assigned to the Criminal Court where she presided over misdemeanors and conducted arraignments on all criminal matters including serious felonies. In 1999 she was elected as a Justice of the Supreme Court where she presided over felony criminal matters including robbery, assault, drug sales, promoting child prostitution, arson, murder, and rape. She also presided over the Felony Drug Treatment Court which provided an alternative to incarceration for first felony drug offenders who successfully completed drug rehabilitation, community service, employment training and got a job.
In addition to criminal matters, she presided over multimillion dollar civil matters involving contract disputes, medical mal practice, products liability, construction accidents, matrimonials, and automobile accidents.
As a jurist, Justice Blackburne made the community’s understanding of the courts a high priority by opening her courtroom to students through a variety of special programs; as well as by visiting the local schools and colleges to discuss the court system and cutting edge legal topics. She established the Annual Justice Kenneth Brown Community Law Day in honor of the first African American elected jurist in Queens County. She also developed the Summer Youth Court Project which provided a paid, six week, in depth law program for high school and college students in cooperation with the New York City Department of Employment.
Prior to her judicial service, Justice Blackburne held a variety of public and not for profit positions, She was the Chair of the New York City Housing Authority, the Nation’s largest public housing entity with over 600,000 residents; 16,000 employees which included a 2400 person police force, and a budget of nearly a billion dollars of capital and operating funds. It was there that she inaugurated the first bicycle police patrol in the City.
She was President of the Institute For Mediation and Conflict Resolution for 10 years, a not for profit agency which applied mediation, arbitration and other conflict resolution techniques to community, government and even criminal disputes locally, nationally as well as internationally. The Institute also provided training in dispute resolution techniques to a broad range of government, community and corporate groups across the country.
Justice Blackburne has served on a number of Boards and Commissions including the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) where she was the Chair of the Triboro Bridge and Tunnel Authority. She was also a Corporate Director of Mutual of America, a multibillion dollar insurance company.
She began her professional career as a teacher in the public schools of New Jersey and New York; and continued as a college and law school professor at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government; The University of Massachusetts Law Center, The City University of New York Center for Urban and Legal Studies, Long Island University and St. John’s University School of Law.
Her civic and community service includes 15 years as pro bono counsel for the New York State NAACP; Editorial Board of The Crisis Magazine, Trustee of the Special Contribution Fund of the NAACP, Metro Manhattan Links inc, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Black Leadership Commission on AIDS; and Founder and Director of the Liturgical Dancers of St. Catherine of Sienna R.C. Church.
Justice Blackburne is a member of the Bar of New York State, the United States District Courts of the Eastern and Southern Districts of New York and the Supreme Court of the United States. She earned her undergraduate degree from the Ohio State University and her Law Degree from the St. Johns University School of Law. She has also received Honorary Doctor of Law degrees from Niagara University and St. Johns University.
Before she retired from the bench, Justice Blackburne and her daughter, Judge Anna Blackburne Rigsby,were the only mother and daughter judges of courts of general jurisdiction in the United States. Her daughter is now the youngest judge on the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, their highest court.
Justice Blackburne has been married 48 years to the Honorable Elmer H. Blackburne, Democratic District Leader, 29th AD Part B. They have three daughters: Judge Anna, Dr. Rose Blackburne and Ms. Faith Blackburne.