Trials & Litigation

Ethics charges reveal new details in case of judge who punched public defender


A Florida judge who struck an assistant public defender in a hallway outside his Viera courtroom is now facing a legal ethics case.

Assistant public defender Andrew Weinstock was representing a client before Brevard County Judge John Murphy when they got into the argument that led to the physical altercation. Murphy is accused by a Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission investigative panel of denigrating Andrew Weinstock both before and after the scuffle and attempting without success to get Weinstock arrested. Then, when Murphy returned to the courtroom and Weinstock did not, the judge presided over cases against seven of Weinstock’s clients and made determinations while they were unrepresented, the JQC says in a notice of formal charges (PDF) filed Wednesday.

The complaint accuses Murphy of violating the state Constitution; breaking the law; and failing to comply with legal ethics rules that required him to treat Weinstock with dignity and to act in a manner that promotes confidence in the judiciary, according to Florida Today and the Orlando Sentinel.

Murphy was angry with Weinstock because the public defender wouldn’t waive a client’s right to a speedy trial, the complaint says.

“You know if I had a rock, I would throw it at you right now,” the judge told the lawyer, according to the transcript in the complaint. “Stop pissing me off. Just sit down. I’ll take care of this. I don’t need your help. Sit down.”

Weinstock resisted, telling the judge: “You know what? I’m the public defender. I have a right to be here, and I have a right to stand and represent my clients.”

At that point, Murphy told Weinstock again to sit down and added, “If you want to fight, let’s go out back, and I’ll just beat your ass.”

“Let’s go right now,” replied Weinstock, according to an earlier news report, and the two men then left the courtroom. Yelling and thuds could then be heard on the video.

Immediately after the incident, Murphy re-entered the courtroom and heard seven cases involving Weinstock’s now-unrepresented clients, the JQC says. During this process, the judge entered a plea and sentenced one defendant, changed another defendant’s bond conditions after listening to victim testimony and waived speedy trial rights for three other defendants.

Murphy soon took a month of paid leave and attended anger management sessions during that time. He apologized when he returned, saying that he loved his job and intended to be a better person and a better judge. He was assigned to a civil caseload in Titusville.

Meanwhile, Weinstock quit his job, saying that his boss, 18th Judicial Court public defender Blaise Trettis, should have opposed Murphy’s return to the bench after Murphy’s paid leave.

Trettis told a local television station in June that Weinstock said he had expected simply to talk with the judge outside the courtroom and was surprised when, according to Weinstock, Murphy simply began hitting him.

Murphy was not available to comment about the ethics case, the Sentinel says.

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