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Judge Reprimanded for Letters to Publisher

The Massachusetts judge who sent threatening letters to the publisher of The Boston Herald received a public reprimand yesterday from the state Supreme Judicial Court. The SJC concluded that Superior Court Judge Ernest B. Murphy violated standards of judicial ethics when he wrote two letters to Herald Publisher Patrick J. Purcell on official court letterhead demanding payment of a more than $2 million libel award. From the opinion:

It is beyond serious dispute that the letters sent by Judge Murphy do not promote public confidence in the judiciary. Judge Murphy concedes that he should not have used judicial letterhead. But more than stationery is at issue here. Although a judge is not prohibited from communications related to personal litigation, including those in pursuit of settlement, permissible communications must reflect the standards required to be followed by a judge both on and off the bench.

That the standards imposed on judges are high goes without saying. Because of the great power and responsibility judges have in passing judgment on their fellow citizens, such standards are desirable and necessary and there should be strict adherence to them. Failure on the part of even a few judges to comply with these standards serves to degrade and demean the entire judiciary and to erode public confidence in the judicial process. ... In sending the letters at issue, Judge Murphy did not meet the high standards required of judges.

Murphy sued the Herald over a series of stories in 2002 that portrayed him as insensitive to crime victims. One report alleged that he told a 14-year-old rape victim to "get over it." These stories led to a flood of hate mail and threats to his family, he said. During the Herald's appeal of the verdict, Murphy wrote to publisher Patrick Purcell demanding that the paper give him a check for $3.26 million. Murphy's letter told Purcell it would be a "BIG mistake" for him to share the letters with his lawyers.

The state's Commission on Judicial Conduct had recommended that Murphy also be required to pay a fine of $25,000. The SJC declined to order the fine, noting that Murphy had earlier agreed no longer to sit as a judge. He is required to reimburse the state for the costs of its proceedings against him. The full-text of the opinion is here: In the Matter of Ernest B. Murphy, SJC-10179 December 18, 2008. We previously wrote about Judge Murphy in August.

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on December 19, 2008 at 11:04 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

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