Tuesday, June 3, 2014

And In This Corner . . . The Judge


After covering courthouses for 40 years I understand why the judge wanted to pound the crap out of the public defender.

They used to piss me off, too.

But, when a Florida judge challenged an attorney to a brawl in court and then allegedly punched him, he gave a new literal meaning to “strong arm of the law.”

Judge John Murphy should be charged with battery by Brevard County prosecutors. If not, and the judge walks scot-free, it’s a clear message that criminals have it correct: the law has a double-standard.

I can’t tell you how many times I have seen criminals get smart-assy in court with a judge, and as a result, are clobbered by bailiffs.

Surprisingly the U.S. constitution was the initial igniter of the physical altercation in this instance. Under our constitution criminals have a guaranteed right to a speedy trial. But, that right is commonly waived in today’s over-clogged courts.

When Judge Murphy asked whether his client was willing to waive a speedy trial, public defender Andrew Weinstock refused.

“You know I’m the public defender,” he said, in comments caught on tape. “I have the right to be here and I have a right to stand and represent my client.”

Judges usually have their way in moving their court-appearance calendars at a fast pace (they don’t want to be late for lunch). Once the public defender threatened to upset the flow, it went downhill.

“If I had a rock, I would throw it at you right now,” Judge Murphy barked. “Stop pissing me off. Just sit down.”

Words followed and moments later he challenged the public defender to some old-fashioned fisticuffs. “If you want to fight, let’s go out back and I’ll just beat your ass,” said the judge.

(Sounds like something I once heard in a smoky barroom.)

The public defender left the courtroom and the judge exited the bench.

In a hallway, the judge allegedly “grabbed him about the collar” and “began punching him in the head,” Weinstock’s boss said later.

(I don’t know whether he gave him ‘three strikes’ or not.)

And I cannot say whether this was an “old grudge” or just too much caffeine. That aside, though, it has much in common with the violent gangbangers I wrote about over the years. Look at them cross-eyed, and they’d bash in your head.

I can almost hear the criminals who witnessed this incredible scene in the courtroom, saying of Judge Murphy, “Cool, he’s just like me. I would’a pounded the f**ker too for disrespecting me.”

Folks, there has got to be a brighter and wider line between them and us, and especially a very clear demarcation between criminal and judge.

By all accounts this was completely out of character for the jurist. Judge Murphy, who’s been on the 18th Judicial Circuit Court since 2007, is an Afghanistan veteran (2003-04) and retired Army Reserve colonel who has won the Bronze Star.

Whipping the public defender’s ass wasn’t in doubt. But, come on, colonel, this isn’t Afghanistan. Gong-ho judges must show judicial temperament and judgment. Yours was buck-private poor.

Hey, I can empathize. He goes to Afghanistan and puts his life on the line in a war zone for us and comes home and runs into jerks like public defender Weinstock every day in court.

You can almost hear him grumbling, “I fought for this ass?”

It’d piss me off too.

But, yes, judge, you fought for jerks like him, and for me.

This little episode should demonstrate that John Murphy remains more colonel than judge. Judges leaven justice with a firm, reasoned and steady hand. They don’t pound it into heads.

With that in mind it’s time for Judge Murphy to take his double-dip, and retire from the bench.

War hero aside, prosecutors should charge him with battery. Obviously no jail time. His life wouldn’t be worth a plug-nickel behind bars. But, terms of probation must include anger management.

At the very least – and this is no punishment at all – the state’s Supreme Court should discipline him.

As for the public defender? He should have a personality transplant. . . . And practice Ali’s rope-a-dope.

See R.D. Byron-Smith's Author's Page at Amazon.

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