Judge John C. Murphy of Brevard County, Florida was feeling a bit like Judge Dredd yesterday morning. Video captured him verbally sparring with an experienced assistant public defender, Andrew Weinstock, before requesting Weinstock visit him in his “Chambers of Doom” (a.k.a. the hallway) for some actual sparring.
Looks like we need to come up with a new term beyond “benchslap.”
Cue Michael Buffer: “Let’s get ready to RUMMMMMBLLLLLLE!”
The impetus for the fight was Weinstock’s refusal to waive his client’s right to a speedy trial. It would seem Judge Murphy acted quickly in compliance with Weinstock’s request and docketed a trial by combat.
If you’re not able to watch the video right now: (1) remember to watch later, because it’s fun, and (2) here’s a recap of the highlights, from Florida Today:
“You want to set it for docket sounding, set it for docket sounding. I’m not waiving in any case. This is an emergency created by the state,” the attorney says.
Murphy responds: “You know if I had a rock I would throw it at you right now. Stop pissing me off. Just sit down. I’ll take care of it. I don’t need your help. Sit down.”
“You know what? I’m the public defender I have a right to be here and I have a right to stand and represent my clients.”
“I said sit down. If you want to fight let’s go out back and I’ll just beat your ass.”
Sounds like someone’s got a case of the Mondays. At that point they go outside and you hear a fight and the judge yelling, “I’m not kidding. You wanna f**k with me? Do you?” When the judge returned:
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.”
The courtroom applauded. Either they sided with the judge or they were terrified they’d be next.
In the past I’ve stood up for a judge pushed to anger by disrespectful lawyers. But unlike the former instance, Weinstock exhibited no intentional disrespect like cutting off the judge or throwing passive-aggressive insults solely designed to frustrate the judge into an outburst to set up a BS recusal motion. He was just asking the judge to schedule a trial, which, theoretically, is the judge’s job. And the former judge also didn’t threaten or perform physical violence, which is a pretty significant difference.
Based on where the video picks up, Weinstock seems entirely reasonable. Though to play Devil’s Advocate, Weinstock does eagerly say “let’s go right now” and storm out of the courtroom after the judge says, “if you want to fight let’s go out back and I’ll just beat your ass,” so Weinstock had to have some idea what was going on and acted ready to throw down. Not that it excuses the judge’s behavior, but perhaps we’ve not seen the whole story.
[Public Defender Blaise] Trettis said he met with Weinstock, but he had not seen the courtroom video when he spoke with FLORIDA TODAY Monday evening. He said to his knowledge, criminal charges won’t be pursued.
“I hope it’s not a reflection on Judge Murphy’s really outstanding legal career,” Trettis said, adding, “If it’s true, you know, I think it’s really an uncharacteristic, isolated incident.”
Sounds like an office bending over backward to keep in the judge’s good graces. That said, the public defender’s office said they will report the incident to the Florida Bar.
In the meantime, Judge Judy’s producers need to step up their game.
Judge, lawyer tussle in Brevard courtroom [Florida Today]
Brevard judge, public defender fight after argument in court [WFTV]
Trial By Combat: It Was Real And Spectacular [ATL Redline]