Shocking courtroom video shows a Judge provoking public defender to a fist fight… attorney leaves the courtroom with the Judge and a scuffle can be heard in the hallway. If that is not bad enough, the attorney did not return to the courtroom and the Judge handled all 7 of his clients, who no longer had representation!
Here is what happened…
June 2, 2014, Brevard County Florida: Judge John Murphy asked Brevard County public defender Andrew Weinstock to waive his client’s right to a speedy trial for charges related to assault and resisting arrest. Weinstock says he is not waiving, at which point Judge Murphy gets impatient and says, “You know if I had a rock, I would throw it at you right now.”
Weinstock tries to respond but Judge Murphy (off camera) interrupts, “Stop pissing me off. Just sit down. I’ll take care of it. I don’t need your help. Sit down.”
Weinstock responds: “I’m the public defender, I have the right to be here and I have a right to stand and represent my clients.” There were 7 clients in court that day.
Judge Murphy yells at Weinstock to “sit down” at least 2 more times. Then says, “If you want to fight, let’s go out back and I’ll just bust your ass.”
Weinstock responds, “Let’s go now.” And can be seen grabbing his papers and heading for the door, the Judge strides off the bench and makes his way to the hall (off camera).
“The attorney said that immediately upon entering the hallway he was grabbed by the collar and began to be struck,” Weinstock’s supervisor Blaise Trettis, public defender of the 18th Judicial Court said, “There was no discussion, no talk, not even time for anything. Just as soon as they’re in the hallway, the attorney was grabbed.” Mr. Trettis said Weinstock was struck in the head.
Yelling and thumping can be heard in the hallway. “Do you wanna f– with me? Do ya?” And “I’m beating your ass right now.” The sheriff’s deputy can be seen pacing as if uncertain as what to do then goes into the hall to break up the fight.
The Judge returns–alone–to the courtroom and is met with applause. The Defendant stands alone at the podium, with no legal representation. Other clients of Weinstock also faced Judge Murphy that day. In one case, Judge Murphy accepted a plea and handed down a sentence. With another client, Judge Murphy heard testimony from a victim and changed the conditions of the defendant’s bond. In three cases, Judge Murphy waived defendants’ rights to a speedy trial. I imagine the defendants were intimidated and likely did not protest.
“I hope it’s not a reflection on Judge Murphy’s really outstanding legal career,” Mr. Trettis said about the fight, “If it’s true, you know, I think it’s really an uncharacteristic, isolated incident.”
Neither side pressed charges. Judge Murphy took a month long leave of absence and attended anger management counseling.
Chief Judge John M. Harris issued a written statement about the fight and said Judge Murphy’s current cases will be assigned to other judges.
Judge Murphy then offered a public apology and returned to the bench, in another town, now handling civil cases. He said, “I love my job and have refocused myself on doing all I can to make myself a better person and a better judge.”
Attorney Weinstock objected to Judge Murphy’s return and quit his job. Supervisor Blaise Trettis threw Weinstock under the bus and publicly offered his support to Judge Murphy, who “deserves a second chance”.
In August 2014, the Judicial Qualifications Commission, an independent disciplinary body that investigates complaints of judicial misconduct, filed formal charges against Judge Murphy, accusing him of violating 7 of the state’s rules on how judges should behave. One of the charges is a rule stating that Judges cannot act as an attorney. After the JQC investigation is complete, Judge Murphy will likely be disciplined by the Florida Supreme Court.
In Judge Murphy’s answer to the JQC charges, dated Halloween 2014, he admitted he to making comments about fighting but denied pressuring defendants to waive their right to a speedy trial while their lawyer was away.
Also, “Judge Murphy acknowledges that he became frustrated by an assistant public defender,” said his answer to the JQC charges. “However, he clarifies that was not because the attorney ‘refused to waive speedy trial’ for a client but because he repeatedly refused to make any announcement to the court regarding the wishes of several clients — whether it be to proceed to trial, to enter a plea, or to waive the right to speedy trial.”
Judge Murphy is scheduled to have a hearing in March about the fight, both sides will be able to tell their side and present evidence to a panel that includes two judges, two lawyers and two lay people. The panel won’t impose a sanction, but rather will draft findings and offer recommendations to the Florida Supreme Court. The Florida Supreme Court has the final say on what will happen to Judge Murphy. Due to the video taping of the fight, and the large amount of public attention that has been attracted, it is likely Judge Murphy will face some kind of disciplinary action.
“Brevard judge who got into courthouse fistfight faces formal charges” by Rene Stutzman, Orlando Sentinel, 8/14/14: http://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/breaking-news/os-fighting-judge-brevard-20140814-story.html
“Brevard judge will take leave after courtroom scuffle” by Stacey Barchenger and Andrew Ford, Florida Today, 6/06/14: http://www.floridatoday.com/story/news/local/2014/06/02/judge-lawyer-tussle-in-brevard-courtroom/9886361/
“Public Defender Quits After Judge in Courtroom Fight Returns to Bench” by Jacob Gershman, The Wall Street Journal, 2014: http://blogs.wsj.com/law/2014/07/08/public-defender-quits-after-judge-in-courtroom-fight-returns-to-bench/
“Judge concedes role in courtroom fracas” by Andrew Ford, Florida Today, 11/04/2014: http://www.floridatoday.com/story/news/local/2014/11/04/judge-concedes-role-courtroom-fracas/18488961/