William C. Thompson Sr. passed away on Christmas Eve, a belated gift to the thousands of people who were railroaded under his judicial watch when he was the Administrative Judge in Kings County Supreme Court.
The praises have been pouring in for Judge Thompson, mostly from politicians. Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted, “As a judge and the first African American state senator from Brooklyn, William C. Thompson Sr. stood up against racism and injustice in our city for decades.”
I know people normally do not speak ill of the dead, but the fact that he was a trailblazer does not negate the fact that as a judge he presided over countless star chambers and share in the guilt and the sin of hyper incarceration. The Honorable Bruce Wright mentions “Willie” in his book, “Black Robes, White Justice,” commenting that he was a self-styled “kingmaker” when he was the Administrative Judge in Kings County Supreme Court, when Administrative Judges assigned cases to trial judges.
Willie would marry another judge, Sybil Hart Kooper, and he assigned high profile cases and cases with a high probability of convictions to her when he was Administrative Judge. For example, she presided over the infamous 1982 murder of William Turks, who was beaten to death by a mob of white thugs. In fact, at the sentencing of one of the mob, Gino Bova, Judge Kooper said, before pronouncing sentence, “There was a lynch mob on Avenue X that night. The only thing missing was a robe and a tree.” This played splendidly with the Press, but note though that Bova was not convicted of murder, but of manslaughter, and given 5 to 15 years. Judge Kooper presided over a number of similar cases involving Black youth, and they were often convicted of murder and sentenced to 20 years to life.
As a court watcher, monitoring Judge Kooper’s cases, Willie would often visit her courtroom and court her while young men of color were facing his Lady Justice, a cruel white bitch who, when in 1985 she was appointed to the Second Department Appellate Davison, trial lawyers whispered to their clients after they had been summarily convicted in her court that she “would do less harm” in the Appellate Division because she would be one of a panel of judges.
Lest we forget, Willie, this trailblazer, became nothing more than a cog in the machinery of injustice, instead of, as the kingmaker, ensuring that the scales of justice would be balanced.