Criminal Justice

Judge on paid leave, seeking counseling after reported fight with public defender outside courtroom

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Updated: A Florida judge who made international headlines after reportedly fighting with an assistant public defender outside his courtroom on Monday and then returning to the bench was not at work Tuesday.

Another judge was handling the call in Brevard County Judge John Murphy’s courtroom, and a spokeswoman for the county sheriff’s department said deputies are working to get statements from both parties, Florida Today reports.

News reports Monday said the two men did not press charges and indicated the investigation, at that point, was thought to be over, with no arrests made.

Meanwhile, in a Tuesday written statement, Chief Judge John M. Harris said Murphy is on a paid temporary leave of absence and agreed to take anger management classes and get unspecified “treatment,” News 13 reports.

“As chief judge, I want to assure the public that yesterday’s incident involving a county court judge and an assistant public defender is not something that will ever be tolerated in the Eighteenth Judicial Circuit,” Harris wrote. “This isolated event in no way reflects the typical manner that courtrooms in Brevard and Seminole Counties are managed by the hardworking and conscientious judges in this circuit. People come to court seeking justice and a peaceful resolution to their conflicts and they have the right to expect a much higher standard of behavior from our judges than was exhibited in court yesterday.

“All of our judges, including Judge Murphy, fully understand this and to that end, and with the fullest cooperation from Judge Murphy, I have temporarily reassigned all of his pending cases to other judges.”

A spokeswoman for the Florida Bar told Florida Today that it is looking into the incident. Florida’s Judicial Qualifications Commission would not confirm to the newspaper whether it was investigating Murphy.

The Monday incident was sparked by a courtroom dispute over resistance by assistant public defender Andrew Weinstock of the judge’s request for him to waive speedy trial rights for his client.

Courtroom video captured the argument just before the fight, WKMG reports.

“If I had a rock, I would throw it at you right now,” the judge said. “Stop pissing me off. Just sit down. I’ll take care of it. I don’t need your help. Sit down.”

“I’m the public defender, I have the right to be here and I have a right to stand and represent my clients,” Weinstock responded.

“Sit down,” the judge tells him. “If you want to fight, let’s go out back and I’ll just beat your ass.”

“Let’s go right now,” says Weinstock, and the two men exit.

Yelling and thuds are heard on the video, then the judge returns, breathless, and the courtroom applauds, according to news reports.

18th Judicial Court public defender Blaise Trettis told WFTV that Weinstock said he had expected simply to talk with the judge outside the courtroom and was surprised when, Weinstock said, Murphy simply began hitting him.

The articles don’t include any comment from the judge.

Last updated June 5 to include information from a write-through of the Florida Today coverage.

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