Former Superior Court Judge Ernest B. Murphy will not be receiving disability payments in addition to his multimillion dollar libel award against the Boston Herald. Murphy filed for disability pension based on a claim of post-traumatic stress disorder and depression linked to receiving hate mail and death threats due to his ruling in a rape case. The Supreme Judicial Court in Massachusetts found unanimously that the Contributory Retirement Appeal Board was correct in denying Murphy the disability pension.
Justice Francis X. Spina wrote the opinion that found that “Judge Murphy has not presented any evidence to support a conclusion that he sustained a personal injury during the performance of his judicial duties.’’
Murphy was appointed to the court in 2000 and became the target of highly inflammatory coverage by Boston Herald reporter Dave Wedge, which led to the hate mail. On February 13, 2002 the Herald ran a front-page story a front-page story entitled “Murphy’s Law; Lenient judge frees dangerous criminals.” Murphy was denounced as “callously indifferent to victims” and quoted by unnamed sources as saying about that rape victim that “‘She’s 14. She got raped. Tell her to get over it.’” Murphy denies ever making the statement. Wedge later appeared on Fox News’s The O’Reilly Factor and said Judge Murphy was pro-defendant and “caused headlines for making disparaging remarks to victims.”
Murphy also sued Herald reporters and columnists Jules Crittenden, Margery Eagan and David Weber. Eagan and Weber had verdicts entered in their favor and Crittenden was found not liable.
In February 2005, the jury found against the Boston Herald and David Wedge and awarded Murphy $2.09 million in compensatory damages. That award was later reduced to $2.01 million.
He was disciplined for using his judicial letterhead in a letter to Herald Publisher Patrick Purcell to settle his libel before the newspaper appealed his verdict in the later slander action. Here is that ruling.
The hate mail included a copy of the Herald containing his photograph a bullet hole drawn on his forehead. The picture was slipped under his door at the courthouse. Yet, Spina stated “Assuming that Judge Murphy read this death threat in his chambers, there was no evidence whatsoever as to what he was doing when he opened and read it. The mere fact that an employee is in his office during regular work hours does not necessarily mean that the employee [is working as a judge].’’
It is an interesting ruling since the threat was clearly directed at him for his carrying out his judicial duties and delivered to his judicial office.
What do you think?