Update on Sunshine fist fight

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.


19 responses

  1. Ok, I’ll bite (not on the ankle). What “context” would ever justify a judge — of any court, in any circumstances — in telling an attorney to step into the hallway outside the courtroom for a fistfight?

  2. Judge, be that as it may, the video clearly shows that it was the judge who took this from a professional disagreement to a personal confrontation. And then he followed that up -from most accounts – with a criminal assault. I don’t think the judge’s behavior is defensible in any way. Sometimes trial attorneys get rambunctious, irritating or even out right disrespectful. We expect and the system demands that judges remain above the fray.

  3. pdgba,

    There is no justification for such a suggestion. I did not mean to imply otherwise. Since I was unclear, I apologize.

    But, there is context for the judge’s fighting words. As they should, lawyers are all about seeing their clients as whole human beings with all their strengths and weaknesses. As a judge, I too am interested in those strengths and weaknesses both in myself and in other judges. And context always helps me do that better.

    I intended no equivalency. The judge failed.

    All the best.


  4. Thanks for clarifying, judge. I was pretty sure you didn’t mean to suggest otherwise. So let me say, as a defense attorney myself, that the lawyer also failed miserably to live up to minimal expectations. Upon being spoken to as the judge spoke to him, instead of stepping out of the courtroom (leaving his client alone, by the way), the public defender should have responded, “On the basis of the court’s last remark, threatening me with personal violence, I move for recusal. And for a continuance chargeable to the State under the Speedy Trial Act and the Sixth Amendment.”

  5. Pingback: The Heat of the Well (Update 1: Perspective; 2: Context) | Simple Justice

  6. I was surprised that the bailiffs stood aside. Then again, I’m sure the bailiffs handbook doesn’t include a chapter for “when the judge challenges somebody to a fight.”

  7. When I was at Legal Aid one hundred years ago, after I respectfully requested a written court stating the basis for the ruling, the Commissioner from DC Superior Court responded by calling me a “smartass” and proceeded to chastise me for several minutes (on the record). I was not baited and talk to opposing counsel who was bright enough to realize that I could appeal and win. So we entered into a settlement.

  8. Richard,

    Your experience is the same as mine. Long ago I drove all night across the state to argue a motion (essentially a 12(b)(6) motion in federal parlance) in the state court. It was a wrongful death action, and our defendant absolutely had no liability. The motion was good as gold.

    I got my ass chewed by the judge and he denied my motion with several nasty remarks. That was back in the day when the state courts held “docket calls” and the place was packed with lawyers. My ears were burning, and I was enraged and I left the courtroom.

    My opponent followed. He was highly regarded, but I had never met him before. He quietly asked to speak to me. I said sure. He said, “You are right. He’s an asshole. I’ll dismiss it, drive safely.” A good guy with experience is joy to practice law against.

    Thanks for your engagement.

    All the best.


  9. Short answer: human nature. Longer answer:

    My first reaction to the story, and I suspect I’m not nearly alone, was laughter. It wasn’t a little chuckle; it was outright laugh-my-ass-off-spitting-coffee laughter. A couple guys with apparent history finally had enough of each other.

    It used to happen often, and I’m not so sure we are better for the loss of basic emotion. A few years ago, justices of the Wisconsin Supreme Court reportedly got into a fistfight. They were wrapped around the wheel of an intense debate, and emotions got the better of them. Good for them–they didn’t give in to the hand-wringing, PC, whiny nonsense; they got busy.

    Is there any doubt there have been fistfights among Supreme Court justices? There have. Judges and lawyers? Yup. And you know there have been mash-ups between judges and defendants, defendants and lawyers and lawyers and lawyers. So what; are we so different from other people? If we are, then we have a real problem. We aren’t better than anyone else, and sometimes, things get away from us.

    When I was a younger lawyer (I never was a “young lawyer”), I sat in on a deposition of a plaintiff for a senior partner. There were probably ten lawyers in the room. The plaintiff’s lawyer and the questioning defense lawyer didn’t like each other, and that would have been obvious to the mouse sniffing for crumbs in the corner of the room. About twenty minutes into the depo, the plaintiff’s lawyer grabbed the defense lawyer by the tie and dragged him across the table. We stopped them before things got too out of hand. They recovered, then blamed each other for the fracas. Ten minutes later, we were all laughing because we realized that, sooner or later, shit has inertia.

    But I learned something: don’t wear ties to depos.

    Every lawyer, and judge, reading this has, at one point, felt the desire to pop some twerp in the nose. Lawyers can be outright buttflakes, and some of them need to be taken to the woodshed. Speaking just for myself, the only thing that kept the twerps from bloodiness wasn’t decorum, fair play or some self-righteous idea that lawyers are above humanity.

    It was the just investment in my license.

  10. Just for the record, I don’t consider it to be “hand-wringing, PC, whiny nonsense” to suggest that lawyers can act like mature grown-ups, or even, God forbid, like professionals, and can do so all the time. Schoolyard behavior is not irrepressible “human nature.” Of course, I practice criminal law, not civil litigation, so I admit to working around a more civilized and collegial crowd of lawyers.

  11. Skink,(of course, your pen name is one of my favorite Florida literary characters),

    Your recall of crazy depositions is similar to mine. I had one where the prosecutor starting hitting his witness that I was deposing because she was sinking his case. We got all of that on the record. I even recall my opponent and me in the courtroom in Beaver City, Nebraska after trial one evening, and the jury and judge had left, seriously beginning to square off against each other (until broken up by others).

    But to engage with judge in a physical altercation is beyond my comprehension. Then again, former Governors of Nebraska don’t walk around in public wearing shower caps and righting wrongs.

    All the best.


  12. Pingback: Fighting John Murphy: It gets worse | a public defender

  13. Your attempts at providing “context” in this and the prior post pretty much failed. It might have worked if included in the middle of a longer and thoughtful post – as is it just comes of as the black robe equivalent of the blue line. Doubly so, since you completely ignore the defendant. After the judge’s bout with the PD he comes back and continues the colloquy about the speedy trial with the now unrepresented defendant who still insists on his right but that is flawed too – he would be going to trial soon with presumably new counsel who knows nothing about the case.

    The judge could have simply held the attorney in contempt and sent him to prison – that would still be wrong and inevitably reversed on appeal – but he would hardly be the first or the last to do it. Nonetheless, he should be removed from his post if he tried to get the now forced-pro-se to do anything except assign another counsel. To contend otherwise is to implicitly concede that there are contexts where judges can become more important than our system of justice.

  14. I wonder what “context” excuses the behavior of the judge when he comes back into the courtroom and proceeds to to question the defendant without his lawyer present? And then calls the next case, which defendant is ALSO apparently supposed to be represented by the public defender, and proceeds to question THAT defendant without his lawyer present?

    This whole incident is a damned disgrace and should get him removed from the bench, as far as I’m concerned

  15. Thaddesus,

    I understand the words “context” and “excuse” to have different meanings. I always want “context,” even though the behavior may not be “excused.”

    All the best.


  16. What the Judge and others have said. After some 25 years practicing law, I can say there are some wonderful opposing lawyers out there. It is a thrill sometimes to practice law. But, we are human. In my Army days, I once messed up twice shooting the M60 machine gun. I simply held it wrong. The Captain, a former Drill Sgt, running the range, yelled at me and kicked me off the range. I was a young lieutenant then. Later, that same Captain half apologized to my Captain, saying he slipped back into Drill Sgt mode. In all careers, we are still just human.

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