Labor & Employment

No Disability Pension for Judge Who Won $2.1M Libel Verdict; Top Mass. Court Says Job Link Not Shown

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The top court in Massachusetts has upheld administrative decisions nixing a disability pension for a former superior court judge who won a $2.1 million libel verdict against the Boston Herald over a series of 2002 articles that criticized his handling of a rape case.

Although Ernest Murphy said he suffered disabling post-traumatic stress as a result of the Herald’s 2002 coverage, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts on Friday held that he had not proven a disability caused by a personal injury related to his judicial duties, the Boston Globe reports.

The court’s written opinion says Murphy got hate mail, death threats and “threats of violence directed at his family’’ as a result of the news coverage, and got special protection from the state police after a copy of a Herald story, with a bullet hole drawn on a photograph of Murphy included in the article, was slipped under the door of his chambers. However, this was not sufficiently related to his work to qualify Murphy for a disability pension.

”We examine the evidence from two perspectives—whether Judge Murphy was engaged in judicial work (such as preparing for a trial, doing legal research, or the like) during the time that he opened and read the death threat, and whether the act of opening and reading his mail was, in itself, a judicial duty,’’ the court wrote.

“Assuming that Judge Murphy read this death threat in his chambers, there was no evidence whatsoever as to what he was doing when he opened and read it,” the opinion continues. Simply because an employee is in his office, during regular work hours, the court notes, does not in and of itself establish that he is working as defined by law.

Hat tip: Associated Press.

Additional and related coverage: (May 2007): “$2 Million Libel Award to Mass. Judge Upheld” (Oct. 2007): “Judge Who Won Libel Verdict Defends Ethics Charge” (Dec. 2008): “Public Reprimand, But No Fine, for Judge Who Wrote Threatening Letters” (Aug. 2009): “Ex-Judge’s Disability Pension Related to Winning $2.1M Libel Suit Is Rejected”

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