Mass Law Blog

Really Judge Murphy. Really !?!

Really Judge Murphy. Really !?!

Judge Ernest Murphy

Massachusetts Superior Court Judge Ernest Murphy won a $2 million libel verdict against the Boston Herald after the Herald incorrectly reported that he had said that a 14 year old female rape victim should “get over it.”

Fair enough, but that was not the end of the story. The Herald appealed (ultimately losing), but during the appeal Judge Murphy sent two letters to Patrick J. Purcell, owner and publisher of the Herald, which led to today’s SJC decision publically reprimanding Judge Murphy for this incident.

Here are quotes from the letters, taken from the SJC reprimand. The letters proposed a meeting between Judge Murphy and Patrick Purcell, were hand-written on Superior Court stationery, and proposed a luncheon meeting between Murphy, Purcell and (presumably) the Herald’s insurer. The letter went on to tell Purcell –

to “have one person … at the meeting…. Under NO circumstances should you involve [counsel in the lawsuit] in this meeting…. You will bring to that meeting a cashier’s check, payable to me, in the sum of $3,260,000. No check, no meeting.” In the postscript, the judge writes that it would be “a mistake … to show this letter to anyone other than the gentleman whose authorized signature will be affixed to the check in question. In fact, a BIG mistake.”

The letter of March 18, 2005, states, “[Y]ou have a ZERO chance of reversing my jury verdict on appeal. Anyone who is counselling you to the contrary … is WRONG. Not 5% … ZERO. AND … I will NEVER, that is as in NEVER, shave a dime from what you owe me….” (Emphasis in original.)

Photocopies of the letters are attached to the CJC’s Hearing Officer Report, here.

OF course, Purcell did show these letters to his lawyer, the meeting never took place, the Herald published the letters in the paper, and the Herald filed a complaint with the Commission on Judicial Conduct, leading eventually to the SJC reprimand.

All of which leads to a few questions:

Really Judge, did you really think that Patrick wouldn’t show these letters to his lawyer? Really!

Did you think it might send the wrong message for a judge to use official stationery for personal business? Not once, but twice? Did you think that this might be perceived as a misuse of the power of your office? Really!!

Really Judge Murphy, did you think that writing a letter of this nature would reflect positively on the integrity and prestige of the Massachusetts judiciary? Did it occur to you that these letters might come across as being, well, sorta creepy?

Did it occur to you that it might be perceived as a misuse of the enormous power wielded by a judge to suggest that the party you had sued could not prevail on appeal? Could that have suggested that you had some influence with the appeals process, or might be able to affect the outcome in some manner? Really!!

Really Judge Murphy, you claimed not to know that the Code of Judicial Conduct contained an express prohibition against use of judicial stationery for personal purposes, but as a judge haven’t you heard the expression, “ignorance of the law is no excuse”? Really!

You suggested that Purcell meet you at the Union Club of Boston, one of our fair city’s oldest and “woodiest” men’s clubs, which was formed in 1963 and didn’t allow women members until 1980? Didn’t you think this might be viewed as a bit of a cliche? Why not the McDonalds on Washington Street? Really!

Oh, and really Judge Murphy, didn’t it occur to you that the Boston Herald might publish these letters for all the world to see? After all, the Herald is a newspaper with a reputation for being very aggressive, so didn’t you think that they would eat this up and use this to publically embarrass you? Really!?!

p.s. – Judge Murphy is permanently disabled as a result of the Herald defamation incident, and therefore is no longer on the bench.

p.p.s. – apologies to SNL, Seth Meyers and Amy Poehler. Really.

p.p.s. – if this whole Judge Murphy thing leaves you shaking your head in bewilderment, you are not alone.

The Ten Weirdest Cases of 2008

Courtesy of the London Times online.

Here is number 1, which I assume even under the English version of “top ten” lists is the “winner.” –

What’s in a name? A nine-year-old girl involved in a custody hearing in New Zealand drew international attention for her name: “Talula Does The Hula From Hawaii”. The judge decided that the name was a form of abuse and ordered the girl placed under the guardianship of the court. The judge noted that it was part of a wider phenomenon; other eccentric names given to children in New Zealand in recent times included “Number 16 Bus Shelter” and, for twins, “Benson” and “Hedges” and “Fish” and “Chips”.

Nation Finally Shitty Enough To Make Social Progress

Nation Finally Shitty Enough To Make Social Progress:

Although polls going into the final weeks of October showed Sen. Obama in the lead, it remained unclear whether the failing economy, dilapidated housing market, crumbling national infrastructure, health care crisis, energy crisis, and five-year-long disastrous war in Iraq had made the nation crappy enough to rise above 300 years of racial prejudice and make lasting change.

“Today the American people have made their voices heard, and they have said, ‘Things are finally as terrible as we’re willing to tolerate,” said Obama, addressing a crowd of unemployed, uninsured, and debt-ridden supporters. “To elect a black man, in this country, and at this time—these last eight years must have really broken you.”

See also:Black Man Given Nation’s Worst Job

More Legal Humor from Evan Schaeffer

We need more laughs in the legal profession, believe me. Lawyers take themselves way too seriously – and I’m putting that very politely.

Evan Schaeffer of The Legal Underground is working to correct this with a long-running series of “advice” letters: advice to young lawyers, advice to federal judges, advices to partners, and so on. If you’ve worked in a large law firm (typically his target), you realize he has a talent for this. If you haven’t you probably can’t believe this stuff (admittedly, a lot of it is over the top). However, there is at least a germ of truth to all of this.

Example from “Advice to Young Lawyer #24”, dated January 7, 2005:

Dear Mr. Schaeffer:

I’m in a terrible bind. There’s a partner in our 1,127-attorney firm named Mr. B who everyone is scared of, including me. Unfortunately, I got assigned to his practice group yesterday. Even though I’m a fourth-year associate, Mr. B apparently wanted to break me in easy. He called me on the phone, said his secretary had a document for me to copy, and told me to come to his office. When I did, he was on the phone again. He held up his right hand with all his fingers extended and mouthed, “This many.” So far, so good. I made five copies. But later in the day, he called me into his office again. He wasn’t on the phone anymore. He held up his right hand and extended his fingers again. Then he started screaming. “Look!” he yelled. “Tell me what you see!” A chill ran down my spine when I counted only four fingers.

As it turns out, Mr. B is missing the pinky on his right hand. As a result, I really screwed up. Continue reading …

Here’s a link to a collection of all the “advice” letters, and here’s a link to an earlier posting of some of his stuff (“17 types of lawyers”) on this blog.

I think Evan may the be the Garrison Keillor of the legal profession, or more to the point, our Hunter S. Thompson.