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Judge charged with ethics violations over post-trial letters

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  1. Libel and Privacy
NEWS MEDIA UPDATE   ·   MASSACHUSETTS   ·   Libel   ·   July 13, 2007

NEWS MEDIA UPDATE   ·   MASSACHUSETTS   ·   Libel   ·   July 13, 2007


Judge charged with ethics violations over post-trial letters

  • Ernest Murphy is alleged to have brought his office into disrepute for letters he sent to the Boston Herald’s publisher after winning a defamation suit against the paper.

July 13, 2007  ·   A judge who won a defamation lawsuit against the Boston Herald has been charged by the Massachusetts Commission on Judicial Conduct for letters he wrote to the newspaper’s publisher.

The charges, filed July 10 with the state’s highest court, the Supreme Judicial Court, allege that Judge Ernest B. Murphy “engaged in willful misconduct which brings the judicial office into disrepute, as well as conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice and unbecoming of a judicial officer.”

The charges stem from two letters and a postscript Murphy wrote to Herald publisher Patrick Purcell after a jury returned a $2.1 million verdict against the newspaper and one of its reporters. The judgment was later reduced to $2.01 million.

In the letters, one of which was written on judicial letterhead, Murphy demanded a cashier’s check for $3.26 million and wrote that the meeting would be “AB-SO-LUTE-LY” confidential.

Murphy also wrote that Purcell could bring one person with him, suggesting it be an attorney from the newspaper’s insurer. In a postscript, he wrote that it would be a “BIG” mistake to show the letter to anyone else.

In a second letter, Murphy wrote that the communication represented “settlement negotiations” between the parties, and also that the newspaper had “ZERO” chance at winning on appeal.

Both letters were sent in stationery envelopes from the court, with Murphy marking each as “personal & confidential.”

The charges specifically allege that Murphy violated six canons of judicial conduct. These include that he failed to “avoid impropriety or the appearance of impropriety” and that he lent “the prestige of judicial office to advance his own private interests.”

In a written response prepared by his attorney, Murphy denied the charges. He said his conduct was a part of “private, confidential and privileged” settlement discussions with Purcell. He further said the charges contain “gross overstatements” about his “inadvertent” use of judicial stationery.

A hearing in the case will be scheduled once the Supreme Judicial Court has appointed a hearing officer. The hearing officer essentially acts as a judge during the hearing, filing a report “containing proposed findings and recommendations” with the commission and judge.

Murphy faces a number of possible punishments, including removal from office, limitations on his judicial duties, fines or other sanctions the commission could recommend to the Supreme Judicial Court.

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