It was a routine legal disagreement, one that happens every day. In June, 2014, in a dreary criminal courtroom packed with defendants waiting for their turn at the bar of justice, assistant public defender Andrew Weinstock and Brevard County Circuit Judge John Murphy started arguing over Weinstock’s refusal to waive his client’s right to a speedy trial.
Then, suddenly, Murphy lost it.
“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 stood his ground. “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.”
To which Murphy responded, “I said sit down. If you want to fight, let’s go out back, and I’ll just beat your ass.”
The gauntlet thrown, the two men disappeared into the hallway, where Murphy, according to court documents, could be heard bellowing: “Alright you, you want to f— with me?” The sound of a scuffle followed. Moments later, as the Courthouse News Service put it, “Murphy returned to the courtroom; Weinstock did not.” Weinstock later said Murphy hit him twice in the face. Murphy alleged that it was Weinstock who threw the first punch, hitting Murphy in the chest.
Ultimately, according to court documents, a deputy separated the two men.
The courtroom crowd, which had heard everything, clapped and laughed. Judge Murphy, clearly out of breath, said, “Well, I’m an old man.” (He was 56 at the time and had served as a Colonel in the U.S. Army Special Forces, deployed in Afghanistan.) Even though Weinstock was no longer present, Murphy continued to pass judgement on the public defender’s clients.
The video went viral and Murphy became briefly famous as “the fighting judge.”
The Florida Supreme Court was not amused. Thursday it overturned a lesser punishment imposed on Murphy by a disciplinary panel and removed him from the bench.
“This egregious conduct demonstrates his present unfitness to remain in office,” the court ruled. “Furthermore, where a judge’s actions erode public faith in the courts, removal is appropriate. Judge Murphy’s grievous misconduct became a national spectacle and an embarrassment to Florida’s judicial system. We conclude that, through his misconduct, Judge Murphy surrendered his privilege to serve in our court system.”