Judge refuses to wear face mask and has ordered lawyers to remove theirs, public defender group says

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A Philadelphia family court judge has refused to wear a face mask during in-person court hearings amid the COVID-19 pandemic and has sometimes ordered lawyers to remove their face masks, according to a letter by a public defender group.

The judge is 72-year-old James Murray Lynn, according to the letter sent last week to Margaret Murphy, the administrative judge for the family division. The Philadelphia Inquirer obtained a copy of the letter, written by Alan J. Tauber, first assistant at the Defender Association of Philadelphia.

The letter outlines six instances since July 29 in which Lynn did not wear a face mask.

“Not only was he not wearing a mask, but he was actively ordering counsel to remove their masks while litigating,” Tauber alleged in the letter.

Lynn has been a judge since his election in 1991. He won two retention elections, despite a “not recommended” rating both times by the Philadelphia Bar Association, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

A plexiglass partition was recently constructed around the bench where Lynn sits. A spokesperson for Murphy told the Philadelphia Inquirer that lawyers and clients sit at least 15 feet away from the judge. One lawyer was asked to pull down his face mask because Lynn could not hear him, the spokesperson said.

The spokesperson said Murphy has been speaking with public defenders and prosecutors to resolve their concerns.

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