|JUDGE MURPHY "The judge's use of an official court stationery envelope to mail the message exacerbated the misuse."|
The state's highest court publicly reprimanded Superior Court Judge Ernest B. Murphy yesterday for writing threatening letters to the publisher of the Boston Herald after winning a $2 million libel verdict against the newspaper.
In a 12-page decision, the Supreme Judicial Court ruled that Murphy "plainly crossed the line" by writing two letters to publisher Patrick Purcell on court stationery demanding that the newspaper drop its appeal of the verdict and hand him a check for $3.26 million.
"For a sitting judge to state with repeated emphasis that he knows with complete certainty what will happen in a case is a misuse of the power and prestige of judicial office," the SJC wrote. "The judge's use of an official court stationery envelope to mail the message exacerbated the misuse."
The punishment from the high court was less severe than the sanctions recommended by the Commission on Judicial Conduct, which suggested that Murphy be censured, fined $25,000, and suspended from the bench for 30 days. Murphy will, however, have to pay for the costs incurred by the commission, the total of which was not available yesterday.
Murphy's lawyer, Michael Mone, called the decision a victory for his client, who apologized after sending the letters and agreed at the outset "to accepting a public reprimand for his conduct."
"Judge Murphy is gratified that after this long process the Supreme Judicial Court has agreed . . . that the public reprimand is the appropriate discipline," Mone said.
The Boston Herald did not return a phone message seeking comment.
Murphy agreed in August to leave the bench because of an unspecified disability. Mone said his client will step down shortly. The judge has been on a paid leave of absence since July 30, 2007, because, he said, he suffers from posttraumatic stress as a result of his long legal battle with the Herald.
Murphy came under attack in a series of Herald articles in 2002 that portrayed him as soft on criminals and insensitive to victims. One report, quoting anonymous sources, alleged the judge had instructed lawyers during a conference in his chambers to tell a 14-year-old rape victim to "get over it."
Murphy, who successfully sued the Herald for libel, testified at the Suffolk Superior Court trial that he had said the victim would need help to get over the attack. The judge said the stories prompted a deluge of hate mail and threats to his family.