Awkward: Judge Beats The Crap Out of Public Defender in Court
By William Peacock, Esq. on June 3, 2014 11:02 AM
We cover a lot of lawyers and judges acting like idiots around here. In fact, it's secretly our favorite kind of post, even more so than Supreme Court coverage.
But we've never seen this: a judge challenging a public defender to a fight, from the bench, and the public defender taking 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?
Hah. Bench Slapped.
Awkward, right? It's hard to imagine what led to a judge hopping off the bench and on to an attorney, but let's over-analyze, shall we?
Weinstock has an unusually snippy tone, one that is absolutely deference and respect-free. 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 fight.
Clearly, there is some underlying backstory, one that would also explain why, after Judge Murphy slapped him around, according to WFTV, Weinstock declined to press charges.
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 declining to waive his client's speedy trial right.
Plus, if you watch the far less exciting conclusion to the proceedings, Judge Murphy comes back, makes a joke about catching his breath, and continues with hearings. One wonders if his next move, talking to the PD's client without his attorney present, might also be an issue.
ABA Model Rule 4.2, 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.
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 bows 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.