Brevard County Judge Removed From Bench. What Happens When Those In Authority Taint An Entire System
Character makes the difference between those who will not abuse their authority, and those who act like street fighters, bullies, or are criminally minded. The way one behaves in a negative situation, with self-control, is a quality of a good person and a good leader.
People have problems. They have bad days. They go through stressful situations. When they hold positions of power, they cannot allow problems or stress to cause them to do the wrong things. They cannot abuse their authority because of personal problems or stress. They must be above reproach.
Super humans? In a way, yes. When people are placed in positions of authority to do super things, the public expects them to always be professional and have the interests of the people they serve as priority.
Just imagine someone who lacks self-control telling others what they should or must do and having the authority to punish or retaliate when people don’t obey them.
There must be millions of people who have completed their educational goals and did everything just right, but they don’t have what it takes to handle authority. When I say authority, I’m thinking about those positions where the lives of others can be ruined by a stroke of the pen, or the pulling of a trigger, or when signing Executive Orders.
I went looking for examples of leaders or those in authority who did something shameful and what happened to not normalize their behavior. The story below started in June 2014, and ended on December 18, 2015. As in this case, anyone can complete law school, practice, then run for a judgeship and be elected. Judge Murphy was elected in 2006, so he had enough experience to know right from wrong.
There was a courtroom cattle call in Judge John C. Murphy’s courtroom for criminal defendants in Brevard County, Florida. Public Defender Andrew Weinstock refused to waive a client’s right to a speedy trial. Then, Weinstock did it again. Judge Murphy lost his composure.
“You know, if I had a rock, I would throw it at you right now,” he shouted at Weinstock, “Stop pissing me off. Just sit down. I’ll take care of this. I don’t need your help. Sit down.”
Weinstock responded. “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.”
Judge Murphy responded, “I said sit down. If you want to fight, let’s go out back, and I’ll just beat your ass.”
They went out back. The audio was captured on the judge’s microphone. Judge Murphy returned to the bench, but Weinstock did not. Judge Murphy continued to pass judgment on the public defender’s clients.
A panel of the state Judicial Qualifications Commission recommended that Murphy be given a four-month suspension without pay and a $50,000 fine. That Commission can make recommendations, but it is the Florida Supreme Court that makes the final decision on punishments for lawyers and judges.
In October 2015, the Florida Supreme Court immediately suspended Judge Murphy. The court gave him until October 26, 2015 to show why he should not be permanently removed from the bench.
Murphy took a month-long leave of absence and issued a public apology. He asked the Supreme Court to uphold the commission’s recommendations. His lawyer argued that Murphy never threw a punch, and he thought that was relevant. The Florida Supreme Court believed otherwise.
During the disciplinary hearing, Murphy submitted a Veterans Affairs finding that he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder from his service in Afghanistan. The Supreme Court noted that “the severity of Judge Murphy’s behavior and the VA finding leave open the possibility of future misconduct.”
The Florida Supreme Court recognized that Judge Murphy’s conduct was not simply a smear upon himself. It tainted Florida’s judicial system.
“Notwithstanding his prior judicial performance, Judge Murphy’s total lack of self-control became a national spectacle — an embarrassment not only to the judge himself but also to Florida’s judicial system. Given the clear erosion of public confidence in the judiciary caused by his misconduct, removal is an appropriate sanction.”