Legal Ethics

Judge who challenged public defender to fistfight is suspended without pay

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A Florida judge who escalated a testy courtroom confrontation by challenging a public defender to a fistfight has been suspended without pay by the Florida Supreme Court and given 20 days to explain why he should keep his job, Florida Today reports.

The state high court went beyond a recommendation by the six-member Florida Judicial Qualifications Committee, which had called for a four-month suspension, a $50,000 fine and counseling for anger management for Brevard County Court Judge John Murphy.

That committee criticized Murphy because he kept refusing to accept responsibility. The supreme court said it relied on the complete case record, including that refusal. Murphy had said he would accept the sanctions recommended by the JQC but called them “harsh” and said he was “dismayed” and referred to the public defender he challenged to the fight as a “discredited witness.”

The JQC was critical of that lawyer, Andrew Weinstock, describing him as a “highly unlikable lawyer,” and noted that another judge reported that often Weinstock was rude, contentious and unprepared in the courtroom.

In the 2014 dustup, captured on the courthouse’s audio and video, Murphy told Weinstock, “Sit down. If you want to fight, let’s go out back and I’ll just beat your ass.”

They went into a hallway, and a bailiff separated them as both had their hands on each other’s chests and were pushing, Murphy’s assigned bailiff previously testified.

Public defender Blaise Trettis, who was Weinstock’s boss at the time of the incident, was surprised by the supreme court’s decision.

“I’m sadly surprised by the court’s order,” Trettis said. “I was hoping that the court wouldn’t remove Judge Murphy from the county court bench, but from all appearances it looks like it’s headed in that direction.”

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