Massachusetts Judge Denied Disability Pension For Hate Mail

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?

Source: Boston as first seen on ABA Journal

18 thoughts on “Massachusetts Judge Denied Disability Pension For Hate Mail”

  1. Nick S, yeah, been there, done that too.

    It’s seeing too much that teaches, and half the time, it’s TMI.

  2. Just imagine that this judge was in chambers and he had a conversation, ex parte, with someone involved in one of the cases, and that led to him making a decision that denied somebody’s constitutional rights under color of state law. Then just imagine that that “someone” sued the judge in a federal district court, using 42 USC 1983, saying what he did was a violation of that section, and he should be (a) prospectively ordered to stop ruling on her case and (b) held liable to her for damages and/or at least for her attorneys fees under section 42 USC 1988. That same group of mental giants would say, “He is immune and cannot be sued for what he did because although he did it while no case was before him, he was IN the courthouse and he WAS a judge and he was doing his job and therefore this case is DISMISSED.” It really is all a big fraud. It’s so demoralizing to see it that way but perhaps if you see it a different way, you’re fooling yourself.

  3. Mespo: “Just another decision denying a disability claim for spurious reasons.”

    Right. And probably lazy to boot. That sounds like the threshold issue: was he acting in the role of judge? A spurious decision on that question probably saved them the trouble of having to determine the actual merits of the PTSD claim.

  4. It looks like the judge appealed and lost. He must have p…. off the wrong people. It seems to me that reading a death threat directly related to his judicial role is doing judicial work. The decision makes no sense.

    Excerpt from the article:

    A former Superior Court judge, who won a multimillion dollar libel suit against the Boston Herald, does not qualify for a disability pension because he could not prove that he was handling judicial tasks when he received a written death threat, the state’s highest court ruled today.

    In a unanimous ruling, the Supreme Judicial Court said former Superior Court Judge Ernest B. Murphy was properly denied a disability pension by the state’s Contributory Retirement Appeal Board.

  5. Malisha, You’re tough. I love it!! It is not @ all unusual for people who work in the judicial system to have threats made. I’ve been shot at and my wife has received threats including one outside a Federal courtroom where an old gypsy woman put a curse on her. I have suffered PTSD, and know it’s quite real and very serious. I go w/ simple karma involving this judge.

  6. Mark,

    Kind of sad how a person’s disability pension and subsequent economic viability can rest on the decision of one person. Seems rather callous. For what it’s worth to me a 3-2 decision should mean an automatic review by a panel of more persons

  7. Taking away a person’s pension is what the powerful do in the same manner as when members of the public demand a particular person get fired for some alleged misdeed, even when both are of little merit.

    That said I don’t know if there is more to this claim of disability than what is presented. If all that was the cause of this psychological disability was the note slipped under the door, I would expect a little more backbone than that.

  8. Not that if would affect the decision on his disability I wonder about his term as a judge. Was he really that bad or was this a reporter trying to make his bones? I’m too lazy (hey! its Labor Day!) to look up but given FAUX News was involved and he won 2 large from the suit my guess is he was targeted for a campaign of lies.

    My problem with reporting on so many issues, with courts being an important one, is the sensationalism and lack on nuance and background. There is an excellent web site (too lazy to look it up right now) that details why some of the most controversial jury decisions were understandable. But the modern media would rather inflame & there are just enough wackos out there to make being the target is dangerous.

  9. P.S. The karma in this case (and based on the judge’s own alleged callous indifference to psychological trauma) is delicious, however.

  10. Let’s call this what it is: male machismo masquerading as judicial decision-making. Had there been anthrax spores in that envelope slipped under the door of the judge’s chambers does anyone suggest that any resulting full disability wouldn’t have been approved had he survived the attack? Psychological injuries don’t enjoy the same type of deference because we assume they are easy to fake and they are somehow “unmanly.” “Get over it” seems to be the therapy of choice (as even this judge might say).

    Bad logic, bad medicine, and bad law.

  11. I believe he made an enemy somewhere where he should not have made an enemy; that is how he came to ruin.

  12. I have no problem believing that Judge Murphy was every bit as bad as any of the journalists said he was; I have no problem believing that Judge Murphy did everything wrong that could be done to defend himself in any way (including any corrupt way) he found available; I have no problem believing that the idiotic conclusion that he was NOT acting as a judge when he read the hate mail and so forth was symptomatic of the system that puts decision-makers in place who routinely spout such offensive and obviously untrue crap; I have no problem believing that everything in this entire case that could have gone wrong did in fact go wrong.

    AND I do not care if he has depression and PTSD. After what he has no doubt done in his career, during which I am sure he wasted no “boo hoos” on any of his victims, I waste no boo hoos on him.

  13. “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].’’


    Ah, he was opening correspondence directed to him as a judge – an integral part of his job.

    Just another decision denying a disability claim for spurious reasons. I see them all the time.

    This ruling is one of the most ridiculous things I have read. It’s Queen of Hearts -ish.

  14. The judiciary is a part of government so citizens and journalists should be allowed to criticize the government, including judges, so long as it is done within first amendment principles.

    Personal attacks on him, not associated with his being a judge, would have a more limited scope.

    Hate has no place in this, so I do not include hate mail, hate letters, hate words, or any other hate.

    I don’t think one case can be dispositive of the entire reality of his competency or proclivities.

    A review of all his criminal cases would be more instructive.

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