I have seen some angry judges over the years. I have also seen a number of violent outbursts in court. But, I have yet to witness what recently happened in a Florida courtroom.
Last week, a Florida judge told a veteran criminal defense attorney to step outside the courtroom, then punched the attorney until sheriff’s deputies broke up the altercation.
The incident occurred outside the range of a court camera, but it captured audio, including several loud thuds. No one was charged in the incident. In fact, Brevard County Judge John Murphy is said to have gone back on the bench afterward and continued his criminal calendar call.
The fisticuffs occurred after a courtroom dispute when attorney Andrew Weinstock refused to waive his client’s speedy trial rights.
“If you want to fight, let’s go out back and I’ll just beat your a##,” Murphy told Weinstock as the two men exited the courtroom, WFTV in Florida reported. A short time earlier, the judge said: “You know, if I had a rock I would throw it at you right now. Stop pi##### me off. Just sit down.”
Weinstock said he had expected to talk with the judge in the hallway outside the courtroom, 18th Judicial Court public defender Blaise Trettis told the station. “The attorney said that immediately upon entering the hallway he was grabbed by the collar and began to be struck. There was no discussion, no talk, not even time for anything. Just as soon as they’re in the hallway, the attorney was grabbed.”
Florida Today has obtained the courtroom video and reports that those in the courtroom applauded as the judge returned to the bench. Murphy told the audience, “I will catch my breath eventually.” Weinstock has now been assigned to another courtroom.
In a Tuesday written statement, Chief Judge John M. Harris said Murphy is on a paid temporary leave of absence and has agreed to take anger management classes and get unspecified “treatment.”
A spokeswoman told Florida Today on Tuesday that the Florida Bar is also looking into the incident. Florida’s Judicial Qualifications Commission would not confirm to the newspaper whether it was investigating Murphy.
A county sheriff’s spokeswoman said Tuesday that the department is seeking statements from both Murphy and Weinstock.
Wow. For some reason this reminds me of Woody Hayes attacking the Clemson football player in the late 1970’s. It is hard to imagine that a person who holds a position of authority and honor would lower themselves to the point of a physical altercation with another person in public.
Courtrooms are supposed to be places of dignity and justice. A trial judge must have the respect of the attorneys, court personnel, and litigants in order for him or her to maintain an effective management system for legal cases.
I have no doubt that the Florida Judicial Qualification’s Commission is launching a full throttled investigation into this matter. There will at least be some sanctions as a consequence for Murphy’s behavior. He may even be removed from the bench.
This is just another example of how hate and anger can and often does ruin the life of a probably otherwise decent human being.