Hello and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the October 6, 2015 Florida Supreme Court order which rejected the Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC) recommendation of a 120 day suspension for a judge who cursed at and fought with a public defender and ordered the judge to “show cause why removal from office is not the appropriate sanction in this case” by October 26, 2015. The order also immediately suspended the judge without pay pending the disposition of the proceedings. The JQC disciplinary case is Inquiry Concerning a Judge, Re: John C Murphy, Case No. SC-1582 (Fla. SC). The Court’s October 6, 2015 order to show cause is here: https://www.floridasupremecourt.org/pub_info/summaries/briefs/14/14-1582/Filed_10-06-2015_Order_to_Show_Cause.pdf#search=John C. Murphy
The judicial disciplinary charges resulted from a June 2, 2014 hearing in which the judge became upset with assistant public defender Andrew Weinstock after the lawyer refused to waive speedy trial for a client. The judge told the lawyer: “You know if I had a rock, I would throw it at you right now. Stop pissing me off. Just sit down. I’ll take care of this. I don’t need your help. Sit down.” The lawyer stated, in response: “I’m the public defender. I have a right to be here, and I have a right to stand and represent my clients.”
According to the JQC’s May 19, 2015 Findings, Conclusions and Recommendations, the judge “loudly commanded” the attorney to sit down and told him, “If you want to fight, let’s go out back and I’ll just beat your ass.” The public defender accepted the judge’s challenge and he and the judge left the bench and met in the hall. To that point, the exchange was captured on courtroom video and audio recordings; however, the hall confrontation was not recorded on video.
The judge was audio recorded making “an even more profane remark” as he confronted the lawyer. Sounds of an altercation could be heard, followed by the lawyer asking for the judge to be arrested for grabbing and punching him; however, the report concluded that there was no clear and convincing evidence that the judge struck the lawyer and noted that a woman who took the lawyer’s photo the following day testified that she saw no evidence of injury. The report also noted that the lawyer had a reputation at the courthouse for being rude and unprofessional and that he was “defiant, defensive, evasive and at times testified inconsistent with what he had earlier reported” at the JQC hearing. The report concluded that the lawyer was not a credible witness.
The JQC Findings state that the judge was well-liked among other judges and that he was endorsed by lawyers who said he was a good judge and expressed surprise at the situation. The judge also took responsibility for his actions and “expressed profound remorse”; however, the incident created “a remarkable national embarrassment” for Florida’s judiciary and its citizens. The report recommended a three-month suspension, a $50,000 fine, costs of the proceedings, and a public reprimand. The JQC Findings, Conclusions and Recommendations are online here: https://www.floridasupremecourt.org/pub_info/summaries/briefs/14/14-1582/Filed_05-19-2015_Findings_Conclusions_Recommendations.pdf
After the commission filed its Findings, the Supreme Court issued an order to show cause on May 21, 2015 as to why the recommendation should not be granted. On June 25, 2015, the judge filed a response through counsel stating that he would not contest the recommendations; however, he called the sanctions harsh and possibly unprecedented and pointed out the burden his suspension would place on his colleagues. The response stated that the judge immediately took responsibility for his actions, apologized for his mistake, and did not publicly respond to the lawyer’s allegedly false claims that he struck the lawyer. The response referred to letters from lawyers and the public stating that he is “a good man and an excellent judge,” as opposed to the lawyer, who “left a trail of judges offended by his behavior.”
The judge’s response further states: “The sanctions recommended by the JQC indeed are harsh. Judge Murphy accepts them while recognizing how difficult it would be emotionally — being off the bench for four months — and financially. As for public scrutiny and ridicule, he knows it is of his own making, and he is shamed. Judge Murphy will not quarrel with the JQC recommendations. Dozens of endorsements through this process identify Judge Murphy as a good man and a good and fair jurist. This one moment in time should not be allowed to define his life and career.” The judge’s response is here: https://www.floridasupremecourt.org/pub_info/summaries/briefs/14/14-1582/Filed_06-25-2015_Response_Order_Show_Cause.pdf#search=John C. Murphy
The JQC filed a reply on June 30, 2015 which states: “again, as he did at trial, (the judge) expends quite a bit of effort to deflect responsibility for the situation upon attorney Andrew Weinstock, minimizing the impact of his improper language and the aggressive physical confrontation in the hallway outside the courtroom directed at Mr. Weinstock. Compounding his misconduct he proceeded to handle the cases of seven separate clients of Mr. Weinstock after the confrontation in the hallway, including persuading five of them to waive speedy trial, the very act that Mr. Weinstock had steadfastly refused to do. Finally, he makes much of the fact that the Hearing Panel did not find that blows were actually struck, which is irrelevant under these circumstances.”
The JQC reply concludes: “A truly contrite Judge Murphy would avoid heaping blame on others, would accept without reservation the discipline proposed by the hearing panel in this matter, and would be grateful that removal was not recommended”. “Instead, what we see is a grudging acceptance and a continued, major effort to deflect his own responsibility onto someone else for his egregious wrong.” The JQC reply is here: https://www.floridasupremecourt.org/pub_info/summaries/briefs/14/14-1582/Filed_06-30-2015_JQC_Reply_Response_Show_Cause_Order.pdf#search=John C. Murphy
Bottom line: This incident was, of course, widely publicized in the media and the judge was both criticized and ridiculed (as well as the judiciary as a whole). The JQC Findings recommended a 4 month suspension; however, the JQC reply was extremely critical of the judge’s response and stated that it was part of “ a continued, major effort to deflect his own responsibility onto someone else for his egregious wrong.” I suspect that the Supreme Court was not happy with this incident in the first instance and this “deflection of responsibility” may have been a major factor (if not the main factor) in the Court’s order immediately suspending the judge and ordering him to show cause why he should not be removed from judicial office. Stay tuned…
…and be careful out there.
Disclaimer: this e-mail is not an advertisement, does not contain any legal advice, and does not create an attorney/client relationship and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.
Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire
Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.
2454 McMullen Booth Road, Suite 431
Clearwater, Florida 33759
Office (727) 799-1688
Fax (727) 799-1670