All public defenders worth their salt are verbally assaulted by judges from time to time, but a Brevard County, Florida judge took things to another level when he physically attacked a public defender in the hallway, after the two verbally sparred in the courtroom. When Public Defender Andrew Weinstock refused to waive his client’s constitutional right to a speedy trial, Judge John Murphy became enraged, stating “if I had a rock I would throw it at you right now. Stop pissing me off. Just sit down.” When Weinstock pointed out that he had a right to be present and represent his client, Judge Murphy said “if you want to fight, let’s just go out back and I’ll beat your ass.” Ironically, Attorney Weinstock was representing a defendant charged with two counts of assault when Judge Murphy made this threat.
Weinstock and Murphy then left the courtroom, whereupon Judge Murphy grabbed a hold of Attorney Weinstock and hit him in the head. Weinstock assumed that the two would simply discuss the issue outside of the packed courtroom, not believing that a judge would literally try to “beat his ass.” Fortunately, sheriff’s deputies quickly ended Judge Murphy’s attack. Judge Murphy then returned to the bench, and Attorney Weinstock was re-assigned to another courtroom for the rest of the day. It goes without saying that had a public defender punched a judge in the head, he would have been immediately arrested and led away in handcuffs.
If this case occurred in Pennsylvania, Judge Murphy could be charged with a status-based aggravated assault, which is a second degree felony. Certain enumerated professions, such as public defenders, enjoy heightened protections, due to both the importance and dangers associated with their jobs. Thus, if a public defender is the victim of what normally would be a misdemeanor simple assault, the charge is magically elevated to the much more serious charge of aggravated assault. Ironically, judges also enjoy the protections of the status-based aggravated assault statute, but I highly doubt that the Pennsylvania General Assembly ever anticipated that a judge would assault a lawyer during a court proceeding.
As of now, no criminal charges have been filed, nor have any judicial discipline proceedings commenced. It is not uncommon for public defenders and court-appointed attorneys to be assaulted by anti-social or otherwise mentally ill clients, however, I have never heard of a case in which a judge became so frustrated that he resorted to physical violence. Usually, judges with a nasty disposition or sadistic streak have plenty of other weapons at their disposal, and need not resort to caveman behavior.
Matt McClenahen is a criminal defense attorney in State College, Pennsylvania, home of Penn State University. He began his criminal defense career in a busy public defender’s office. http://www.mattmlaw.com/About-Attorney-McClenahen/