Legal Ethics

$50K fine recommended for judge over scuffle with public defender

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A $50,000 fine and a 120-day unpaid suspension, among other disciplinary measures, have been recommended for a Florida judge who left the bench and engaged in a physical confrontation with an assistant public defender outside his courtroom last year.

However, the Judicial Qualifications Commission in its Tuesday written opinion (PDF) also blamed the public defender for the June 2, 2014 incident in the Viera courthouse, which it described as “a remarkable national embarrassment.”

The JQC said the appalling and reprehensible incident was an anomaly in the life of Brevard County Judge John Murphy—who receives $138,000 annually—and Murphy testified it was sparked by a perfect storm of stressors.

The JQC also said there was no clear and convincing proof to support assistant public defender Andrew Weinstock’s claim that the judge punched him in the face in a hallway outside the courtroom where the physical confrontation took place.

Describing Weinstock as a “highly unlikable lawyer,” the panel cited testimony by another judge that he was often rude, contentious and unprepared when he had earlier appeared in her courtroom.

A courtroom deputy who followed Murphy and Weinstock into the hallway last year and separated them, with help from a deputy from another courtroom, said they had their hands on each other’s chests, pushing, when he got to the hallway. Witnesses testified that they saw no marks on Weinstock’s face, nor did photos taken soon afterward show injuries, the opinion explains.

There was no question that Murphy did tell Weinstock,at one point: “Sit down. If you want to fight, let’s go out back and I’ll just beat your ass,” because the action inside the courtroom was captured on videotape.

The Florida Supreme Court has the final say on whether to approve the recommended discipline for Murphy. He is currently overseeing a civil call in Titusville and has apologized, saying: “I love my job and have refocused myself on doing all I can to make myself a better person and a better judge.”

Florida Today and the Orlando Sentinel don’t include any new comment by Murphy or his counsel concerning the JQC’s recommendation. In a written statement provided to Florida Today, the 18th Circuit’s chief judge, John Harris, said it would be inappropriate for him to comment before the state supreme court rules.

Related coverage: “What is appropriate punishment for judge who punched assistant public defender?”

Last updated May 22 to note Murphy’s annual compensation.

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