No Disability for Judge Who Got Death Threats

     (CN) – The Massachusetts Supreme Court refused to grant accidental disability retirement benefits to a judge who was humiliated on “The O’Reilly Factor.”
     Ernest Murphy stepped down in December 2008 after serving as a Superior Court judge for eight years.
     Early into his career on the bench, Murphy was castigated in a series of articles that appeared in the Boston Herald. Reporter David Wedge made sweeping allegations of Murphy’s “incompetence to sit on criminal cases, his bias toward defendants and his open hostility to victims and prosecutors,” according to the court.
     In March 2002, Wedge appeared on “The O’Reilly Factor,” where he told the Fox News audience that Murphy had urged a rape victim to “get over it.”
     In a footnote to its opinion on Murphy’s claim for disability benefits, the Massachusetts Supreme Court notes that Murphy’s actual remarks were much more compassionate toward the victim and her recovery.
     After the hate mail and death threats came in, doctors diagnosed Murphy with major depressive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. They said that the stress also manifested itself in physical ailments, such an ulcer and irritable bowel syndrome.
     Murphy sued the Herald for libel in 2002 and won a $2 million judgment in 2005.
     Though he tried to go back to work, Murphy broke down in tears on the bench in July 2007 and walked out of the court house for the last time.
     Murphy said he had suddenly realized that he was unable to perform his duties as a judge because he was immobilized by the fear of how the Herald would describe his decisions, possibly prompting more death threats.
     Weeks earlier, the Commission on Judicial Conduct had initiated formal charges against Murphy. Those charges, which stemmed from letters that Murphy sent the Herald’s publisher after winning his libel judgment, ultimately resulted in a finding against Murphy.
     In October 2008, about two months before Murphy sent a formal resignation letter to the governor, the jurist applied for accidental disability retirement benefits. The Massachusetts Supreme Court refused to grant Murphy benefits on Friday, affirming the decisions of the state retirement board and its appellate body.
     “We conclude that Judge Murphy is not entitled to receive such benefits because he failed to satisfy his burden of proving that the personal injury that resulted in his permanent disability was sustained while he was performing his judicial duties,” Justice Francis Spina wrote for the unanimous court.
     “During his testimony, Judge Murphy only stated that he ‘received death threats, which the state police found were credible and [he] was given a state police protection for a period of time,'” Spina added. “He made no mention of what he was doing when he received the death threat in his chambers. It was incumbent on Judge Murphy to present evidence to show that at the time he sustained his personal injury, he was engaged ‘in the performance of’ his judicial duties. He simply did not satisfy this burden of proof.”
     To show that Murphy suffered a personal injury in the performance of his judicial duties, he needed to show that the act of opening and reading mail is a work function.
     “Contrary to Judge Murphy’s suggestion, we do not take judicial notice that the opening and reading of mail by a judge in chambers is a judicial duty because, although it may be for some judges, it may not be for others,” Spina wrote.

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