The Heat of the Well (Update 1: Perspective; 2: Context)

There is a tacit understanding in the courtroom: Lawyers treat judges with the trappings of respect. Judges don’t abuse the privilege. When a lawyer fails to do so, he gets sanctioned, and no one would hesitate to say that he deserved it. After all, this is the game we play, where we call a guy “your honor” and laugh at his jokes for no better reason than he licked enough stamps in the party leader’s backroom to earn a robe.

But in return, we expect a few things. No, we demand a few things.  We demand that the judge let us do our job, and that he does his.  And we demand that the judge pretend to act with “judicial temperament,” and not fly off the handle like some street thug with a bigger stick than ours.  When this breaks down, all hell breaks loose.

Via Gideon at A Public Defender, Brevard County, Florida, Judge John Murphy broke the contract.

An outrageous video out of Brevard County, Florida (why is it always Florida?), in which a judge is seen verbally abusing a public defender who isn’t ready for trial and then, according to the audio and witnesses, assaults the public defender in the hallway.

Here’s the mind-boggling video:

Here is the dialogue:

“If I had a rock, I would throw it at you right now,” Murphy said.  “Stop pissing me off.  Just sit down.  I’ll take care of it.  I don’t need your help.  Sit down.”

“I’m the public defender, I have the right to be here and I have a right to stand and represent my clients,” Weinstock said.

“Sit down,” Murphy said.  “If you want to fight, let’s go out back and I’ll just beat your ass.”

“Let’s go right now,” Weinstock said.

From the skimpy reports, the problem arose when the PD, Andrew Weinstock, refused to waive speedy trial despite the judge’s pressuring him to do so. Pressure of this sort is nothing new, and many lawyers are happy to waive important rights to appease the judge, the rationale being that to do otherwise is to make the judge hostile toward the defendant. Petty and wrong, but those words are often well-applied to the conduct of those who are more concerned with their administrative convenience than other people’s lives or their fundamental duties.

Weinstock refused to give. The judge lost it, and Weinstock took the bait.

“The attorney said that immediately upon entering the hallway he was grabbed by the collar and began to be struck,” said Blaise Trettis, public defender of the 18th Judicial Court. “There was no discussion, no talk, not even time for anything. Just as soon as they’re in the hallway, the attorney was grabbed.”

Two deputies broke up the fight, and the attorney was immediately reassigned to another area so he and the judge would not have to interact with each other.

It’s good to be the judge, as Weinstock would have been in cuffs at best, and dead at worst, had the fighting gone the other way.  Weinstock was “immediately reassigned,” which means he was hustled out of the hallway and courtroom by deputies who had no clue what to do about the fight in front of them.  Because such things cannot happen.

After the confrontation, Murphy went back into court and finished ruling over first appearances.

“I will catch my breath eventually,” Murphy said. “Man, I’m an old man.”

Murphy may be an old man.  Murphy may wear robes and sit on the bench that makes him feel invincible.  But John C. Murphy is no judge.  When he uttered the words “I’ll just beat your ass” in a courtroom out of anger toward a lawyer protecting the rights of his client, he forfeited any authority to pretend he was a judge that might otherwise accrue. He broke the contract.

That things got heated, a guy lost his cool, is no excuse.  The well generates a lot of heat. It’s supposed to. That’s where society fights its battles.  And yet, the contract demands that the judge not lose his cool. Ever. There is no excuse. That’s the deal.  If you can’t stand the heat, get the hell out of the courtroom.

That the deputies didn’t arrest Murphy for his assault, and that disciplinary authorities haven’t seized upon the news reports and videos to commence sua sponte action is bad enough.  That his supervising judge hasn’t ousted him from his perch is worse.  A judge isn’t a guy wearing a robe.  A judge isn’t a guy who says “I’ll just beat your ass.”  Murphy is no judge.

Update: Within minutes of posting this, Judge Kopf wrote about this incident as well.

 I am very angry with PD for pushing things, and angrier yet at the judge for taking the bait.

While we may agree that what happened was terribly wrong, our views are polar opposite as to who took “the bait,” and consequently who baited whom. Discuss.

Update 2:  Again via Judge Kopf:

For perspective, I am told by someone with a background in such things that: “[Judge] Murphy is one of the calmest guys around. Jesus, he volunteered to handle the Veterans Court! I’m sure there is history there, and the career PD is an ankle-biter.”

Everything requires context.

And the killer was always nice to kittens, until he killed.  It’s unclear how this provides context. The PD may well be an “ankle-biter.” We should all be ankle-biters, if that’s what it takes to assert our client’s rights in the face of a judge who prefers his administrative convenience.

The introduction of the idea that there was “history” between judge and PD isn’t surprising. I assumed as much from the outset. So what?  If the judge can’t deal with the Weinstock’s “ankle-biting” without the overwhelming urge to beat his ass, let him recuse himself.  The defendant has a constitutional right to counsel. Murphy has nothing.

48 thoughts on “The Heat of the Well (Update 1: Perspective; 2: Context)

  1. RKTlaw

    So I’m assuming the applause was for the judge upon his return to the court? Sycophants.

      1. RKTlaw

        I thought the account said the judge returned to the courtroom after the encounter, while the PD was relegated elsewhere.

        1. SHG Post author

          That doesn’t mean he didn’t go from the hallway back into the courtroom first, before being hustled out the door.

            1. SHG Post author

              From the latest info, it looks like I’m wrong and you’re right. That sucks (not about your being right, but what you’re right about).

    1. Patrick

      Yes Scott, why is it always Florida? I agree that Judge Murphy was completely out of line and he breached the tacit agreement between judges and us, who appear before them on a daily basis. Readily admitting that he is an, “old man,” maybe it is time for Judge Murphy to retire. We cannot have judges challenging lawyers to a fist fight. I hope the JQC takes appropriate action.

      What the hell is the APD doing and thinking? He “takes the bait and leaves the podium to meet the judge in the hallway to fight? Has Mr. Weinstock lost his mind? In all of the years that I have practiced criminal law, both in Florida and New York, there have been times that I wanted to jump over the bench and show the judge what I thought about his/her ruling or his/her treatment of me and/or my client. But I restrained myself. Mr. Weinstock should have restrained himself. I have no problem with Mr. Weinstock advocating for his client. If the judge gets angry because Mr. Weinstock is representing his client in a zealous and professional manner, then so be it. In fact, I like when that happens. However Mr. Weinstock’s actions cannot be tolerated.

      Loved your, “he licked enough stamps in the party leader’s backroom to earn a robe” comment. True, so true.

      1. SHG Post author

        No question that there are a few points where Weinstock could have handled himself better, not the least of which being when he strode to the hallway. That said, any obstreperousness by Weinstock could be dealt with in the normal course of affairs. It’s no excuse for a rumble.

  2. JLaw

    I’d love to know which ticked off bailiff or clerk, fed up with Hizzoner’s crazy-ass behavior, released the video to the press in the first place. Betcha this isn’t the first time something appalling has come from this particular bench.

  3. David Sugerman

    A pissed off judge? Happens every day. A pissed off judge resorting to battery? Can’t say I’ve ever seen that.

    Usually judicial retribution is quieter, more cunning, and much more effective. Somewhat akin to how much richer one gets by bank robbery with a pen and paper, as opposed to a pistol. That said, most judges in the circles in which I travel stay on the high road, have slow fuses, and manage to avoid reactivity. But the small-minded inevitably have their day.

    The PD was absolutely right to stand his ground. The judge showed a stunning lack of fitness for the office. My take on the video is that the PD was a bit of an idiot to accept the judge’s invitation. His pace and posture suggest to me that he knew he was heading toward escalation, as he headed off camera. Of course, had he not done so, we would not be having this discussion, and Murphy would perhaps be bullying the next one.

  4. AP

    There’s not a criminal lawyer I know that hasn’t had his or her buttons pushed by pieces of shit like Murphy. It’s not easy keeping your cool when you’re being spoken to by a judge who thinks your very existence and every utterance is beneath contempt. All in a day’s work for criminal lawyers. But for a judge to utter threats while on the bench and then assault a public defender in the courthouse hallway makes the whole judicial process descend into Jerry Springer territory. If Murphy had any honour he’d resign immediately, issue an abject apology fire up the Winnebago and drive to wherever old Floridians go to retire.

  5. Turk

    I think the lawyer acted like a horse’s ass. And this is a good example of how a cold transcript differs from the cues of body language, with Weinstock cutting off the judge and then quickly strutting to the door for a fight after hearing “If you want to fight, let’s go out back and I’ll just beat your ass.”

    That sure sounded like a rhetorical statement to me, not meant to be taken literally.

    And no, I am not excusing the judge’s conduct in any way by making that statement or by going out into the hall, or by engaging in a physical altercation. He shouldn’t be sitting.

    1. ShelbyC

      Huh. I would have thought that the fact that the judge followed the guy into the hall and attacked him was pretty strong evidence that the statement should be taken literally.

      1. Turk

        I would have thought that the fact that the judge followed the guy into the hall and attacked him was pretty strong evidence that the statement should be taken literally.

        The video doesn’t show who struck the first blow, and I wouldn’t be too quick to credit any self-serving comments of either.

        The attorney’s job was to shut his pie hole after saying he was not waiving speedy trial and requesting a trial date. His job at that point was to sit (as the judge had ordered) and wait for a ruling.

        If you watch the video you will see the lawyer stalking off to the hallway before the judge even finishes his idiotic challenge, “If you want to fight, let’s go out back and I’ll just beat your ass.”

        Based solely on the demeanor of the lawyer (judge is mostly off camera) I wouldn’t be too quick to say the judge was the first to make physical contact. And if he did, I guarantee he will say he will say it was defensive.

        1. Marc R

          If the judge didn’t make contact with the PD then the PD would be in jail. That’s a fact, especially in that part of the state. And the fact the bailiff, paid to protect the judge, didn’t move when the PD walked out of the courtroom it was common knowledge that the judge was judge was going to swing and the PD was going to take it, or was going to fight back and go to jail.

          Disgusting situation; the PD handled it wrong but the judge was beyond out of line. You don’t respond to a denial of waiving speedy with the expressed desire to throw a rock at the attorney.

        2. SHG Post author

          Yeah, I think you’re running on empty with the “maybe the PD stuck first” argument. He would have been arrested, without a doubt.

          But I’ve noted a significant division between how this is viewed by civil lawyers and criminal defense lawyers. I’ve pondered this awhile, and think have a thesis. Civil lawyers enjoy a courtroom where neither side is invariably on the good/bad side of the court. The plaintiff and defendant come into court relatively equally, neither carrying the baggage of good and evil. Because of this, plaintiff’s and defense lawyers aren’t in an inherently defensive/antagonistic posture with the court. You may end up there later, but it’s not the core of your relationship with all courts, all judges.

          Criminal defense lawyers are invariably the underdog. The prosecutor burps, and the court grants his motion. The cop utters a barely comprehensible excuse, and the judge finds him credible. The defense needs 10 minutes and the judge yells “denied.” The prosecution answers ready for trial, except he has no witness within five states, and the court asks how many months would suit his convenience. That’s our life. We’re used to fighting. We take antagonism as a fact of daily life.

          I exaggerate to make the point, of course, but not too much. The point is that we all see Weinstock’s conduct as less than appropriate, but hardly beyond the realm of a bad day’s in-fighting. The judge has no excuse under any circumstances. That’s how it looks from the criminal defense lawyer’s table, which is always the one furthest away from the jury.

          1. David Sugerman

            Excellent point. My civil plaintiff’s practice earns the ire of corporate America and politicians pandering on red meat issues. With few doctrinaire exceptions, we do not start anywhere near the same place with the bench as our colleagues who dare to defend criminal cases. Does that color my reaction to counsel’s conduct? Without question.

          2. Turk

            Yeah, I think you’re running on empty with the “maybe the PD stuck first” argument. He would have been arrested, without a doubt.

            Oh, I didn’t say the PD struck first. I just said I wouldn’t be too quick to conclude the judge struck first. Not quite the same.

            I’m pretty confident I know how this started:

            Both were agitated, both thought the other would throw the first punch, both went into a defensive posture to “hold” the other one and the grappling began. Both will blame the other.

            And if there was a video of the actual altercation, I bet you could parse that sucker frame by frame and still have a dispute.

            1. DHMCarver

              And what Turk seems to be (willfully) missing is that all the judge had to do was stay on the effin’ bench. . . He has bailiffs to deal with unruly people in his courtroom. Why would the judge get of the bench, if not to throw a punch?

            2. Turk

              And what Turk seems to be (willfully) missing is that all the judge had to do was stay on the effin’ bench. . .

              Perhaps you should read all my comments first. To prevent yourself from looking silly.

            3. SHG Post author

              I wouldn’t say that at all. Turk doesn’t give the judge a pass, but he’s far harder on Weinstock than most us CDLs are. See my thesis on why. So in the relative scheme of this discussion, it may appear that he’s not hard enough on the judge, but I think it’s more the juxtaposition between the two that may give that impression.

            4. Turk

              …it may appear that he’s not hard enough on the judge,…

              That’s only because I think that issue is a no-brainer. I also don’t make extensive comments about the sun rising in the east.

    2. Brett Middleton

      Are we sure the PD took it literally? Perhaps he was just anticipating a shouting match that he felt (or believed the judge felt) was best continued off-camera. Even a shouting match would still have been a stupid escalating move on the PD’s part, of course, but it doesn’t seem that he was standing in the hall with his fists raised waiting for the judge to come out, as one might expect he would if he had taken the statement literally.

  6. Robert L. Abell

    Both lawyer and judge went over the line, the judge the farthest. But it is a hard job, at times a hard, hard job, but they and we are human beings who sometimes fail to do our best. They need to have their heads clunked together like the Stooges they appeared. But no more than that in absence of past, similar misconduct.

    1. SHG Post author

      Lawyer and judge are not equivalents in the courtroom. When a lawyer goes “over the line,” the judge has the authority to address it properly. When a judge strikes a lawyer, there is no excuse. Ever. No matter what a lawyer did. Ever.

  7. Marc R

    Wow. I’ve practiced in that part of Florida and being frustrated is routine…the judge was clearly out of line but the lawyer’s only proper response at that moment in time was “no your honor, I do not want to fight you, I want to have a trial before speedy runs out.” If that doesn’t diffuse the situation then you ask to be transferred to another criminal division.

  8. DHMCarver

    I once worked for a judicial disciplinary agency — in my state, during my time there, had this video been released here, there would have been a petition for immediate temporary suspension filed with our Supreme Court that day — and it would have been granted. And it is highly unlikely the judge would have been allowed to remain on the bench. Appalling behaviour — I am saddened, though not surprised, to see people trying to justify what the judge did.

    What also shocked me — perhaps more than the judge’s deportment — was that the judge continued the hearing with a defendant who now had no counsel, rather than holding over the hearing until counsel could be obtained. (How ironic that the defendant was up for assault. . .) I liked the touch when the judge asked the defendant if he had his attorney’s card.

    Regarding the applause — I watched that bit a couple of times. It seemed to me that the applause was for when the judge returned to the courtroom — and the only people applauding were white — as was the judge — and the PD was black. This is Florida, after all. . . .

    1. SHG Post author

      Maybe that’s right. I figured the people in the courtroom aside from staff and prosecutors, are defendants and family. Only Florida would a defendant applaud the judge over the defense lawyer, I guess.

  9. Thomas R. Griffith

    Sir, just when we thought we’d seen it all last year. It’s quite obvious now that 2014 will definitely go down as the – WTF? were they thinking? year.

    Everything from – de-copping (aka: dereliction of duty or malingering / striking til payday) , de-public defending (aka: cherry picking cases to be appointed to) to public servants gone wild (aka: white collar bully bare knuckle brawling out back). That’s just the most recent cases of reported bullshit, it get’s worse if you go back and consider bibles being thrown at probationers and drunk judges driving round town with get out of jail cards. When the so-called Umps are shown to be corrupt, the court they are assigned to should be closed immediately and reassigned to a vetted judge. Not allowed to return to applause and bidness as usual.

    *Civilized folks would never fight a man wearing a robe in public because one never knows if it’s a boxer or briefs day and with necked Thursdays, it could get nasty. ewwww. Thanks.

  10. John Barleycorn

    Well I guess its a good thing the CDL didn’t have a handgun in his pocket and
    decide to stand his ground. I am pretty sure I saw the judge making a furtive move for his gavel right after talking about throwing rocks.

    I give the CDL credit for following instructions from the bench and not studying the stitching in his wingtips.

    P.S. Is ankle bitting a gender neutral characterization?

    P.S.S. Seems the “honorable one” in this incident is on the short list for an open state appeals court seat. I wonder if this incident will improve his chances?

  11. RKTlaw

    I am fascinated as to why Judge Kopf felt the need to throw in that the attorney was a “career” PD. Or what his definition of “ankle-biter” might be.

  12. Victor Medina

    The latest update includes a letter from the Chief Judge letting us know that Judge Beat Your Ass is taking a temporary leave of absence, and is seeking anger management help. Fair enough – more honor if the guy resigns, but that brings up an interesting question:

    Does he still keep his ticket to practice law? Does it matter if he resigned (acknowledging his lack of fitness for the bench, and understanding the way it should work)? Or if he’s dismissed (unable to acknowledge wrongdoing, or excusing it)?

    [Ed. Note: Special dispensation granted.]

    1. SHG Post author

      Excellent news. As for disbarment, I say no. He shouldn’t be a judge if he lacks appropriate temperament, but that wasn’t disbarment material.

  13. Richard G. Kopf


    In my second post, I put quotes around these words:
    “[Judge] Murphy is one of the calmest guys around. Jesus, he volunteered to handle the Veterans Court! I’m sure there is history there, and the career PD is an ankle-biter.”

    I was quoting someone else. I thought and believe that this person had relevant knowledge and no ax to grind. That’s why I introduced the quote with these words, “I am told by someone with a background in such things that: . . . .”

    To be clear, I have no personal knowledge of the PD or the judge. There seemed to be some implication in your readers’ comments that the facts were otherwise.

    Thanks for letting my take your space. All the best.


    1. SHG Post author

      Sorry if it came off that way. I understood you to be relaying information, though given that the source was somewhat obscure, I also took it to mean that you deemed it reliable or wouldn’t have posted it.

  14. SPO

    PD was smart to leave the courtroom. The judge could have tossed him in jail for contempt had he stayed in the courtroom. And while he could beat the rap, the ride would be tough to beat.

    In the military, there’s a concept of someone abandoning his/her rank. That’s what happened here.

    Funny how a judge gets to make “terroristic threats” (or whatever the name for physical threats are in Florida) and assault someone and doesn’t get arrested. This judge deserves some time in the pokey.

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  16. Charlesmorrison

    One minor issue here I haven’t seen addressed: it wasn’t the PD’s right to waive. It was the defendant’s. I, for some reason, can’t get the audio of the incident to play on my iPhone, so feel free to ridicule me if this was addressed in the actual audio, but why didn’t the judge berate the defendant? Happens regularly enough. I suppose I know the answer: this particular lawyer regularly counsels clients not to waive. And it screws up the docket.

    I only say this because the way the post is written, and the ensuing comments seem to reflect, the notion that it is the lawyer who refused to waive. That cannot be the case.

    1. SHG Post author

      Between us lawyers, when we say the lawyer refused to waive, we mean he refused to waive on behalf of the defendant. It’s understood.

      1. Charlesmorrison

        Agreed, only that judges don’t always take it that way. “Client control” and all that.

          1. Charlesmorrison

            Well, in their defense, detectives are pretty good clients, I would assume.

            1. DHMCarver

              At the end of the video, the judge does berate the now-counsel-less defendant when the defendant is trying to decide whether to waive this right. But he doesn’t, at least, offer to beat the defendant’s ass. . . .

            2. Charlesmorrison

              Thanks for the clarification. And good for the judge. Seems he mellowed after getting his shots in.

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