Justice Is Served: Brawling Florida Judge Is off the Bench

By Ephrat Livni, Esq. on April 06, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Some say that criminal court is where bad people are on their best behavior and civil court is where good people are on their worst behavior. So what are we to make of a criminal court judge who brawls with public defenders, forces defendants to appear without counsel, and totally loses his cool when an accused individual chooses to exercise his constitutional rights?

The Florida Judicial Qualifications Committee and the state's Supreme Court both considered the question, reviewing Brevard County Judge John C. Murphy's actions and reaching two very different conclusions. Spoiler alert: justice prevailed.

Brawling in Back

Florida seems to generate a lot of weird crime and unusual news stories. But the story that came out of Judge Murphy's courtroom in 2014 was crazy even for that state ... and the evidence of its veracity was caught on audio tape.

After a defendant, through his appointed counsel, refused to waive his constitutional right to a speedy trial, Judge Murphy engaged in some judicial misconduct. The Florida Supreme Court, in its opinion, characterized his offenses as follows:

  1. Threatening to commit violence against an assistant public defender;
  2. Engaging in a physical altercation with counsel; and
  3. Resuming his docket while defendants were without counsel.

The judge's brawl with the public defender was not caught on video, but the sound of their scuffle was recorded, and evidence of Murphy's outrage persisted subsequently. When he returned to the bench after fighting the public defender, Judge Murphy refused to allow any defendants to be represented by counsel.

The story of Judge Murphy's behavior spread like wildfire. He was reviewed by the Florida's Judicial Qualifications Commission. Shockingly, the committee recommended only anger management, therapy, fines, public reprimand, and a 120-day suspension.

But the Florida Supreme Court disagreed completely. "This egregious conduct demonstrates his present unfitness to remain in office," states the court's opinion. "Furthermore, where a judge's actions erode public faith in the courts, removal is appropriate. Judge Murphy's grievous misconduct became a national spectacle and an embarrassment to Florida's judicial system. We conclude that, through his misconduct, Judge Murphy surrendered his privilege to serve in our court system."

Justice Is Served

We can sometimes get the impression from the media that there is no justice and that those who are powerful can do anything without consequences. The story of Judge Murphy shows that the judicial system is not just there to punish the powerless -- sometimes it's also there to remove the powerful from their places.

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