Judge Suspended for Challenging Lawyer to a Fist Fight

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Fist fight

Everyone knows Judge Judy, the television judge that often loses her patience with litigants who “pee on her leg and tell her it’s raining”.

But one Florida judge has taken it a step further – challenging a lawyer to a fist fight. The judge has been suspended without pay and may even facing assault charges after a courtroom disagreement escalated to a physical altercation.

The incident occurred in June 2014, when Bervard County Judge Murphy lost his temper in the courtroom, swearing and challenging a public defender to a fistfight. The pair left the courtroom and exchanged fisticuffs outside – despite both having cases to look after.

During the fight, which was caught on camera, the judge allegedly threatened to kill the lawyer with a rock.

The Outcome

The JQC is a body that disciplines judges in Florida. It initially ordered that the judge be fined, suspended for four months, and ordered to undergo anger management counselling.

The judge initially accepted that punishment, but then called it ‘harsh’ and continued to publicly label the public defender ‘rude’ and ‘disrespectful’.

Given the judge’s lack of remorse, the JQC is now considering permanently removing him from office.

Judicial Misconduct in NSW

The Judicial Commission of NSW oversees the conduct of ‘judicial officers’.

Section 3 of the Judicial Officers Act 1986 (NSW) (‘the Act’) defines a judicial officer as:

  • a judge or associate judge of the Supreme Court,
  • a member (including a judicial member) of the Industrial Relations Commission,
  • a judge of the Land and Environment Court,
  • a judge of the District Court,
  • a magistrate, or
  • the president of the Administrative Decisions Tribunal.

Complaints against judicial officers can be submitted to the Conduct Division of the Judicial Commission under section 15 of the Act.

If the Conduct Division decides that the complaint is wholly or partially substantiated, section 28 allows it to:

  • Recommend that Parliament removes the officer, or
  • Refer the matter to the relevant head of jurisdiction (eg Chief Judge of the District Court) for consideration of disciplinary action.

Examples of Judicial Misconduct in Australia

It is very difficult to remove judicial officers from office in Australia.

However, the first judge of the Supreme Court of South Australia, John Jeffcott, was removed after he killed an Irishman in a duel.

And in 1842, Melbourne’s first judge, John Walpole Willis, was dismissed due to:

“Foibles, idiosyncrasies and cantankerousness on the Bench and elsewhere.”

In the 20th century, only one judge in the superior state courts has been removed from office – Justice Angelo Vasta, who was removed from the Supreme Court of Queensland after a vote by the Queensland Parliament.

This year, a Conduct Division hearing was held for Judge Garry Neilson of the NSW District Court, who expressed the view that social attitudes towards homosexuality had changed since the 1950s and 1960s and that therefore:

“A jury might find nothing untoward in the advance of a brother towards his sister once she had sexually matured, had sexual relationships with other men and was now ‘available’, not having [a] sexual partner”.

Neilson was not referred to Parliament for his conduct, but the head of the District Court, Derek Price, recommended that he not longer be allowed to sit on cases relating to sexual offences.

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Ugur Nedim

Ugur Nedim

Ugur Nedim is an Accredited Criminal Law Specialist with 25 years of experience as a Criminal Defence Lawyer. He is the Principal of Sydney Criminal Lawyers®.

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