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.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.