Jacek Stramski |
On December 17, 2015, the Florida Supreme Court rejected the Judicial Qualifications Commission’s (JQC) recommendation that Judge John Murphy of Brevard County be suspended, and instead held that he “surrendered his privilege to serve in [the] court system” by threatening to commit violence against a public defender, engaging in a physical altercation with counsel, and subsequently resuming his docket while defendants were left without counsel. In re Murphy (SC14-1582).
The now-famous altercation, which was caught on video and was extensively covered in the media, led to disciplinary proceedings by the JQC. Those proceedings resulted in a recommendation that Judge Murphy be suspended for 120 days and fined $50,000. On review, the Supreme Court held that the recommended penalty was insufficient. After pointing out that the primary purpose of its review of the JQC’s findings and recommendation was a focus on whether a judge is fit to serve, the Court examined the judge’s fitness to serve from two perspectives: the “effect on the public’s trust and confidence in the judiciary as reflected in its impact on the judge’s standing in the community, and the degree to which past misconduct points to future misconduct fundamentally inconsistent with the responsibilities of judicial office.”
The Court noted that the judge’s conduct clearly eroded the public’s confidence in the judiciary, and asserted that the judge’s “total lack of control became a national spectacle—an embarrassment not only to the judge himself but also to Florida’s judicial system.” The Court considered the judge’s VA disability for post-traumatic stress disorder, and reasoned that it was unclear whether the judge might have a similar outburst in the future given the high-stress work that a judge engages in. The Court also expressed concern for the fact that the judge held his docket for a number of criminal defendants after the public defender was no longer in court, including waiving the right to a speedy trial for a number of defendants.