Saturday, 2:15 PM
By Shelley Murphy, Globe Staff
Superior Court Judge Ernest B. Murphy, who won a $2 million libel verdict against the Boston Herald and is now facing a possible reprimand and fine for writing threatening letters to the newspaper, has admitted that he is "permanently disabled'' and will not return to the bench in Massachusetts.
In a three-page order released today, the Supreme Judicial Court wrote that it has accepted an agreement between Murphy and the state Commission on Judicial Conduct that says the judge is "permanently disabled from performing his judicial duties'' and will no longer sit as a state judge.
The state's highest court wrote that it rejected Murphy's request to remain on paid administrative leave until he either retires or is granted a disability pension from the governor and the governor's council. Instead, the court ruled that Murphy may continue to receive his judicial pay for up to 120 days, but that payment will stop if he is granted a disability pension before then. Murphy, who has claimed that he suffers from post-traumatic stress, has been on a paid leave of absence since July 30, 2007.
The court kept the details of Murphy's disability claim impounded, citing his privacy rights.
In a separate one-page order, the Supreme Judicial Court indicated it is still considering a request by the Judicial Conduct Commission to publicly censure Murphy, fine him $25,000, and suspend him without pay for 30 days for writing the letters to the Herald. However, in the wake of its decision to accept Murphy's departure from the bench, it gave both Murphy and the commission until Sept. 9 to file additional requests with the court in the other case.
In February 2005, a jury found that the Herald had maliciously published false and defamatory material about Murphy in a series of stories in 2002. The stories, quoting anonymous sources, said that the judge had instructed lawyers during a conference in his chambers to tell a 14-year-old rape victim to "get over it.'' Murphy testified at the trial that he had actually said the victim would need help getting over the attack. The judge said the stories prompted a deluge of hate mail and threats to his family.
After the libel verdict, Murphy wrote two letters to Herald publisher Patrick Purcell on court stationery demanding that the newspaper drop its appeal and give him a check for $3.26 million. Murphy warned in the letters that it would be a "BIG mistake'' for Purcell to share the letters with his lawyers and wrote, "You have a ZERO chance of reversing my jury verdict on appeal.''
Boston attorney Michael E. Mone, who represents Murphy, declined to comment yesterday, saying it would be inappropriate to talk about Murphy's case since details of his disability remain impounded and the matters involving the Herald are still pending before the court. But, in an interview last year he said the judge had "significant physical and mental problems and significant post-traumatic disorder.''
Last August, Governor Deval Patrick rejected Murphy's request for a disability pension based on the judge's claim that he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the protracted legal battle with the Herald.
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