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.