Legal Ethics

Misconduct Charges for Libeled Judge

Misconduct charges have been filed against a Massachusetts judge who allegedly went too far in his continuing campaign against a Boston newspaper after winning a big-bucks libel case.

After winning $2 million in 2005 from the Boston Herald, which had portrayed Judge Ernest Murphy as lenient to defendants and falsely said he had made a disparaging comment about a rape victim, the judge may have stepped over an ethical line. He is now accused of having sent threatening letters—one of them on state court letterhead—to the newspaper’s publisher demanding money, reports the Associated Press.

In one handwritten letter dated three days after the verdict, Murphy seeks a meeting with the publisher and tells him: “You will bring to that meeting a cashiers check, payable to me, in the sum of $3,260,000,” according to the article. “No check, no meeting.” At that point, the libel case verdict had not been paid; the newspaper anted up $2 million plus another $1.4 million in interest in June, a month after the damages award was upheld by the Supreme Judicial Court.

The Commission on Judicial Conduct filed charges against Murphy today in the Supreme Judicial Court, alleging that he engaged in “willful misconduct” unbecoming of a judicial officer.

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