into a fist fight?
Get this: a judge challenged a public defender to a fight, from the
bench, and the public defender took him up on the offer. When Brevard County Judge John Murphy and Public Defender Andrew Weinstock threw down, just outside the courtroom, the most important question was: who won? And beyond that, what happened to the case?
In a courtroom Monday June 2,.2014 in east central Florida, no such
figures of speech were needed. A fight — apparently with real punches
— broke out between a Brevard County judge and a public defender when
an argument at a hearing spun out of control. WFTV in Orlando has
video of the moments before the altercation in which Judge John C.
Murphy can be heard threatening to beat up assistant public defender
Andrew Weinstock after the lawyer refused to waive his client’s right
to a speedy trial.
“If you want to fight, let’s go out back, and I’ll just beat your
ass,” Judge Murphy told Mr. Weinstock before the two headed into a
hallway off-camera behind the courtroom, at which point a violent
scuffle can be heard.
Apparently a couple of marshalls broke up the fight. Mr. Weinstock
couldn’t immediately be reached for comment. Judge Murphy wasn’t
immediately available for comment but is expected to issue a statement
It’s hard to imagine what led to a judge hopping off the bench and on
to an attorney. A judge once threatened to beat me up, but he never
hit me. Another judge threatened that if I objected one more time, I
would be hanging by my exhibits. (But I objected to his ruling and
left the courtroom with all of my parts intact but let’s not
over-analyze, shall we?)
Weinstock has an unusually snippy tone, one that is absolutely defiant
and respect-free. So what? In a contentious hearing voices are raised.
He cuts off the judge and tries to speak over him. Judge Murphy,
meanwhile, immediately jumps to an annoyed, confrontational tone, then
tries to kick him out of the courtroom, then challenges him to a
Clearly, there is some underlying back story, one that would also
explain why, after Judge Murphy slapped him around, according to WFTV,
the PD declined to press charges. Isn’t that why we have courts so
that people don’t use violence to settle things between them?
Blaise Trettis, the Brevard County Public Defender, said the matter
would likely be reviewed by the Florida Judicial Qualifications
Commission, an independent disciplinary body that investigates
complaints of judicial misconduct. Describing his temperament in an
application that he submitted last year to be recommended for a spot
on a state appeals court, Judge Murphy said he was open-minded,
courteous, tactful (what a difference a year makes!) and firm, but
said patience doesn’t come naturally. “Patience was the toughest for
me,” he wrote. “I work very hard to ensure that I do not become
The incident was hardly the judge’s first taste of combat. Judge
Murphy is a retired, decorated U.S. Army Reserve colonel who was
assigned to Special Forces in Afghanistan and several other countries
(I guess fighting is in his blood).
Judge Wins and Loses
It goes without saying that judges aren’t supposed to put a hold on
proceedings, step off the bench, and beat up the attorneys, especially
when that attorney was properly representing his client and declining
to waive his client’s speedy trial right. After the fisticuffs, Judge
Murphy comes back, makes a joke about catching his breath, and
continues with the hearings. One wonders if his next move, talking to
the PD’s client without his attorney present, might also be an issue.
He should know better. (I think this would be a huge issue, especially
if the client waived some rights that the attorney had not).
ABA Model Rule 42 obviously bans lawyers from talking to represented
parties. Florida’s code of Judicial conduct, meanwhile, contains the
standard “uphold the integrity” and “appearance of impartiality”
provisions that might apply to judge-on-client ex parte communication
as well. Do you think maybe he was biased against Mr. Weinstock?
Canon 4 tells judges to conduct quasi-judicial activities so that they do not:
—cast reasonable doubt on the judge’s capacity to act impartially as a judge;
—undermine the judge’s independence, integrity, or impartiality;
—demean the judicial office;
—interfere with the proper performance of judicial duties;
—lead to frequent disqualification of the judge; or
—appear to a reasonable person to be coercive.
Is it coercive to beat up a man’s counsel? (Apparently not, as the
defendant persisted in exercising his speedy trial rights.) Does it
demean the judicial office? One could argue that most of these (all
but the frequent disqualification point) are triggered by throwing
blows in the hallway. Judge “Dred” Murphy may have won the fight, and
may not face criminal charges, but an ethics matter? That seems like a
strong possibility. Do you really want a guy like this deciding your
case? Apparently Some other judges didn’t think that was a good idea
at this time.
The chief judge of the Florida 18th Judicial Circuit Court, John M.
Harris, released a statement late Tuesday June 3, 2014 about the
This isolated event in no way reflects the typical manner that
courtrooms in Broward and Seminole Counties are managed by the
hardworking and conscientious judges in this circuit. People come to
court seeking justice and a peaceful resolution to their conflicts and
they have the right to expect a much higher standard of behavior from
our judges than was exhibited in court yesterday. (June 2nd)
All of our judges, including Judge Murphy, fully understand this and
to that end, and with the fullest cooperation from Judge Murphy, I
have temporarily reassigned all of his pending cases to other judges.
Moreover, Judge Murphy has agreed to seek anger management counseling
and treatment during a temporary leave of absence.
I’d certainly hate to try a case in which I had to object a lot in
front of that judge! — Mace
Mace J. Yampolsky is a Board Certified Criminal Law Specialist, 625
South Sixth St., Las Vegas, NV 89101; He can be reached at: Phone
702-385-9777 or fax 702-385-300. His website is located at: