Thursday, December 18, 2008

Letters To The Publisher

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has reprimanded a judge for sending letters to the publisher of the Boston Herald concerning ongoing litigation between the judge and the paper:

In sending the letters, Judge Murphy failed to uphold high standards of conduct so that the integrity of the judiciary may be preserved; failed to avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety; failed to act in a manner that promoted public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary; and lent the prestige of judicial office for the advancement of the private interests of the judge, in violation of the canons just referenced.

It is beyond serious dispute that the letters sent by Judge Murphy do not promote public confidence in the judiciary. Judge Murphy concedes that he should not have used judicial letterhead. But more than stationery is at issue here. Although a judge is not prohibited from communications related to personal litigation, including those in pursuit of settlement, permissible communications must reflect the standards required to be followed by a judge both on and off the bench.

"That the standards imposed on judges are high goes without saying. Because of the great power and responsibility judges have in passing judgment on their fellow citizens, such standards are desirable and necessary and there should be strict adherence to them. Failure on the part of even a few judges to comply with these standards serves to degrade and demean the entire judiciary and to erode public confidence in the judicial process." Matter of Morrissey, 366 Mass. 11, 16-17 (1974). In sending the letters at issue, Judge Murphy did not meet the high standards required of judges.

The case is In the Matter of Murphy, decided today. The judge is no longer sitting due to disability. (Mike Frisch)

Judicial Ethics and the Courts | Permalink

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